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  • How Social And Digital News Media Ruin Your Life

    We live in a world of perpetual consumption. We consume more food and more resources than any other generation in human history. In that process of overconsuming things, we ruin our body. However, our bodies aren’t the only thing that we’ve ruined; we’ve also fogged and burdened our brains with social and news media. The goal of this article is to make you understand the danger of these two forms of media and to provide some guidelines to reduce the overconsumption.

    Every Ramadan, out of His Endless Mercy, Allah subuhanawuta’la grants us an excellent opportunity to become a better person.

    Allah has designated this month solely for this reason, as He says: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed upon those before you so that you may attain taqwa (God-consciousness).” (Al-Quran, 2:183)

    Part of attaining taqwa requires you to abandon certain worldly pleasures, such as eating, drinking, and having intimacy during a fixed time. Alhamdulillah, a large group of Muslims stick to these guidelines and do fast the whole month.

    There are, however, certain other pleasures that aren’t haram (prohibited) per se, but these pleasures aren’t helping you to increase your taqwa. As the title of my article suggests, I’m, indeed, talking about social and digital media consumption.

    What these media do to your brain

    To understand why the overconsumption of digital and social news media is harmful to you, we need first to understand the science behind it.

    Dopamine is the pleasure neurotransmitter that emanates from your forebrain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for your “this-feels-good-I-want-more” feeling. So, whenever you feel compelled to eat another piece of cake, despite knowing that you’re full, know that dopamine does play a role in that desire.

    However, dopamine isn’t restricted to your eating habits. It also governs how you engage with your computer or smartphone.

    When we pull out our smartphones often or check our social and news feed 35’000 times a year (yes, an average person checks it so often), our brain releases a little bit of that dopamine in the forebrain. So be aware, every time you pull out your phone to check your social media or news feed, you’re activating dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for pleasure.

    Before you decide that pleasure is a good thing, you need to know the difference between pleasure and happiness.

    Pleasure is the feeling that this “feels good; I want more”. It’s usually short-lived and mostly experienced alone. The extremes of pleasure lead you to addiction. This explains, why sugar, cocaine and slot machines are addictive. They give you the short-lived pleasure, but going extreme with those things lead you to addiction.

    However, happiness is the feeling of “this feels good I don’t want or need anymore.” So happiness is something that helps you to achieve contentment. It’s usually long-lived and experienced mostly in social setups or groups. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that plays a role in making you happy.

    Can I have more of that, please? Understanding the Hedonic Treadmill

    Also, as you’ve probably experienced, pleasure results in the desire for more pleasure, or what psychologist refer to as the hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill is the “adaption” to certain forms of pleasure that eventually cause you to seek even more intense and higher doses of pleasure. Dr Catherine A. Sanderson, a psychologist, gives an example of the hedonic treadmill effect:

    “One reason why more money doesn’t bring us the lasting happiness we expect is that we adapt to our newfound wealth. Initially, it is great to have some extra money, but over time we simply adapt to this higher level of income or an unexpected windfall, and thus it no longer leads to greater happiness” (198-199).

    This hedonic adaptation happens with your social and news media consumption too. The more often you check, the more you want to continue checking the feeds. Your brain wants more of that pleasure, and it’s never satiated. This explains why you check your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/You-Name-It-Social-Media feeds so often, despite no urgency to check. Moreover, this eventually leads to social and news media addiction.

    That’s not all. Dopamine process also inhibits us from finding periods of focus or reflection where we need to do the necessary deep thinking.

    So how do we break from this vicious cycle?

    Here is my suggestion:

    While we strive to attain forgiveness, a purified heart and a greater awareness of Islam during the fasting time, I think there is one more thing we need to fast from: social and news media.

    The Digital Fast

    So, what is digital fasting? I’ve coined this term to describe “fasting”, i.e. abstaining from social and digital news media.

    I’ve been doing this fast for more than a year now and feel amazing without those constant inputs and distractions. Now, you don’t need to fast as long as I do. All I suggest is to skip your social and news media consumption at least in the month of Ramadan.

    Notice how you feel without those social and digital news media for a week or two and then decide whether or not you want to continue your fast or go digital minimalism, Cal Newport style.

    So, if you are committed to doing this digital fast, then you are simply saying no to all social (things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.) and digital news media (i.e., CNN, BBC, Aljazeera, and your local news channel .)

    We consume too much of these two, and most of us are not at all aware of their impact on our mind. The truth is, your mind is the most expensive real estate in the world. Consequently, you should be very careful about whom you let in and what you want to build on it.

    So what better time to try this challenge than in the month of Ramadan? Allah’s making it easy for you to attain your personal goals by chaining up the shayateen and by granting you a temptation-free playing field to become a better Muslim.

    Though I can provide you 100s of reasons why you should abstain from these media, in the interest of brevity, I’ll mention four. And all of them are backed by science and/or Islam.

    Abstaining from these media or at least minimising its consumption is not only healthy for your mind and body but more importantly, it will save you from ruining your Dunya (present life) and Aakhira (afterlife).

    Here are my four significant reasons:

    1. Wasting Time

    According to a report from Globalwebindex.com, an average person spends daily 2 hours and 11 minutes on social media alone.

    As for digital news media, the estimates are around 40 mins a day. Therefore, in total, we spend more than 3 hours on digital and social media daily.

    Now, I don’t need to preach to you why wasting time is terrible for your Dunya (present life) and Aakhira (afterlife). You are probably aware of its dangers. Recall, your legs won’t move on the day of Judgement until you are questioned about these five things.

    It was narrated from Ibn Mas’ood that the Prophet (SAW) said: “The son of Adam will not be dismissed from before his Lord on the Day of Resurrection until he has been questioned about five things:
    1. his life and how he spent it,
    2. his youth and how he used it,
    3. his wealth and how he earned it and
    4. how he disposed of it, and
    5. how he acted upon what he acquired of knowledge.”

    (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2422; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 1969)

    This warning alone should be a major concern for any Muslim.

    Nevertheless, the most significant danger of wasting time is that you’re also missing an opportunity to do a good deed at that time.

    2. It’s bad for your mood (and brain)

    In the last 4-5 years, scientists have been digging deep to see whether or not social media is helping or hurting us.

    In the excellent book, The Power of Agency, the authors provide some startling statistics. Here it is, in their own words:

    “Has the time come for warnings to accompany the use of media, particularly social media? Is there unhealthy or unsafe exposure or dangerous doses so to speak?

    On the surface, this may sound preposterous, but as you read these research findings below, ask yourself if you might rethink your exposure to media and start controlling it for yourself.

    • A study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that the closer you are to your (turned off) smartphone, the more it acts like mental kryptonite. Simply keeping it anywhere near you distracts you and can lessen your capacity to think.
    • The more time people spent on Facebook, the worse they felt and the less satisfied they were with their lives, according to University of Michigan researchers in a 2013 article for PLOS ONE.
    • People watching news coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing reported higher acute stress two to four weeks after the tragedy than people who had direct exposure to the events at or near the bombings, according to researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of United States of America (PNAS) journal.”

    In the Upside of Stress Kelly McGonigal referenced the same study and put it this way:

    “Stress caused by the news, as opposed to stress caused by your life, is unique in its ability to trigger a sense of hopelessness. Watching TV news after a natural disaster or terrorist attack has consistently been shown to increase the risk of developing depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. One shocking study found that people who watched six or more hours of news about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were more likely to develop post-traumatic stress symptoms than people who were actually at the bombing and personally affected by it. It’s not just traditional news programs that instil fear and hopelessness; stories of tragedy, trauma, and threats dominate many forms of media. In fact, a 2014 study of US adults found that the single best predictor of people’s fear and anxiety was how much time they spent watching TV talk shows.”

    Likewise, psychologist Dr Catherine A. Sandsberg cites countless studies in her book The Positive Shift that support the idea that the increased use of social and digital media also results in increased “rates of loneliness and depression.”

    3. Hard to focus on the essential things

    One of the biggest danger of spending time on social and digital media is that you continually find it harder to focus on anything.

    Since you are distracted by all these inputs, you find it difficult to focus on the essential things in life.

    And if you think, you can focus on essential things, despite being distracted by these media, then I want you to read this research from Clifford Nass, who was a computer science and communications professor at Stanford. He led many research studies in his lab. He was able to prove just how much our ability to focus is hindered by being distracted.

    He would bring people in, and he would give them tasks, and he would say, “I want you to focus in on this for the next 15 or 20 minutes”. Guess what, most people just couldn’t stay on the given task.

    After collecting the relevant data points, Nass would interview the participants, and they would tell him, “hey, no, I felt like I was really focused.” However, in reality, they just weren’t. They felt like they were more focused than their standard state of hyper distraction. Though, ultimately, the data points showed that they had a tough time filtering out the difference between relevant and irrelevant information.

    Nass passed away in 2013. In one of his last public appearances, he gave a beautiful TED Talk. It’s full of gems about everything you need to know about the dangers of social media consumption and multitasking. Here’s the Talk:

    4. Your solitude is lost

    In Lead Yourself First, the authors define solitude as this: “It is the state of mind where the mind focuses on its own thoughts, free of distraction.” Put it in another way, solitude is freedom from the input from other minds.

    The authors of this incredibly important book argue that we humans have lost this solitude due to the constant information we consume from social and news media. This avalanche of information leads our brain to process up to six times more than it did just in the 1980s. An extremely taxing and energy-consuming task for a less beneficial and less productive job.

    Before this “information age” aka “input age”, we naturally found solitude anytime we were physically alone when we were walking from one place to another, or while standing in line.

    Now with our hyper-connected digital devices, we have genuinely lost this solitude. Our brain is constantly bombarded with information and input, and we find hardly any free time to be with our own thoughts.

    Losing your solitude is indeed a big deal. Because losing your solitude means, you are losing your ability to be creative, to be reflective and to think with clarity.

    In 100s of verses (according to some scholars, close to 750 places in the Quran) Allah subuhanawuta’la encourages Muslims to think, study and to ponder over the creation and life itself. Are we doing justice to these verses? When was the last time you took time to think? To ponder over things?

    Join the Club

    Why don’t you consider doing a digital fast for at least the next seven days? Experiment with it and see how you feel. If you think, digital fast is not helping you to become a better person; then you can always go back to your old ways.

    I hope you’ll take up this challenge to transform your life to the next level.
    Insha Allah, in Part 2 of this article, I’ll talk about guidelines to reduce the overconsumption of this media.

    Until then, wish you pleasant digital fasting 🙂

  • 3 Common Misconceptions Preventing You from Practicing Gratitude

    Gratitude is essential to a balanced, fulfilling, and spiritually positive life. In this article, I talk about three common misconceptions that might be preventing you from practising gratitude. Specifically, I talk about why you should keep a gratitude journal and how to maintain this journal throughout the year.

    The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Gratitude, or rejoicing over all the good in your life, is essential for your spirituality and physical and mental wellbeing.

    Because gratitude has been extensively discussed on this blog, my focus today is on how to keep a gratitude journal. Countless studies have proven the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. For example, in the book The Positive Shift, Dr Catherine A. Sanderson, a psychologist, talks about why you should maintain a gratitude journal.

    She cites a research study conducted by a group of scientists on three groups of people:

    1. one group wrote down three problems that occurred during their week,
    2. another wrote down three events that happened that week,
    3. and the final group wrote that three things that they were grateful for.

    Researchers found that those who wrote down three things that they were grateful for every day “were […] 25 per cent happier—they were more optimistic about the future and they felt better about their lives.

    So, maintaining a gratitude journal is a solid and well-researched method of practising gratitude in your life. In order to help you start and keep a gratitude journal, let’s talk about three common misconceptions.

    #1 Misconception: “I Don’t Have Time for It.”

    You don’t want a gratitude journal because you claim that you just don’t have time for it. But, I’m here to tell you that jotting down a few notes every day won’t take up much of your time. To combat this negative assumption, you can…

    • Set a reminder on your phone for a 3-5 minute part of your day when you’ll write on your journal. This reminder is just to help you to remember to write in your journal, but the journal can be written at any time and anywhere.
      • It’s better to have a physical journal where you record what you’re grateful for. Research finds that things that we write down with a paper and pen tend to stick in our minds and are easy to remember. But if it’s inconvenient to write down things in an actual journal, you can do this digitally through an app on your phone or other handheld devices. For example, Coach Rushdhi likes to write down his acts of gratitude in a journal that he calls his “Alhamdulillah Journal,” whereas I like to write mine on the “Notes” section of my iPhone.
    • Jot down quick notes. Writing things like “Grateful for a sunny day” or “Grateful for lifting 25 pounds today.” This shouldn’t take a lot of time.
    • Limit the number of things that you write down to 5 things three times a week. Of course, you can do less or more, but research has found that a minimum of three times a week is required for fostering gratitude and a more positive outlook on life.

    #2 Misconception: “It’s Tacky and Unnecessary.”

    A lot of things may seem tacky and unnecessary, but they’re still necessary for a healthy life. For example, you might not want to eat healthy or exercise, but that doesn’t mean that your emotions or preferences should dictate your choices.

    You also might think that you’re already grateful and don’t need to write down what you’re grateful for. But as I mentioned previously just the act of writing something down solidifies it in our brain and research has found that writing things down makes us remember what we’ve written.

    So, while having a gratitude journal might not be the only way to be grateful, it is a great way to remember to be grateful.

    #3 Misconception: “I Don’t Think I’ll Have Things to Be Grateful For” or ” I Might End Up Repeating Things”

    Sometimes, we might be so consumed by the negatives that we can’t think of the positives in our lives. For example, we might take the air that we breathe, the home that you live in, or the experiences that we’ve had for granted.  But, this is when it’s the most crucial to remember all the things that we have going on for us–the things and people who are essential but overlooked.

    Also, here are some ways that you can avoid repeating the same things every day:

    • Keep track of things that might seem insignificant. Examples of this are, “I’m grateful for coffee” or “I’m grateful for getting a good night of sleep last night.”
      Dr Brene Brown, one of the top researchers studying vulnerability, writes in her book Daring Greatly.
      Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.
    • Make sure your writing is specific and concrete. Don’t simply generalize. Examples: “I’m grateful for cleaning the house today” instead of “I’m grateful for doing things that I didn’t want to do.” This makes it easier to list all the other things that you might not have wanted to do, such as washing the dishes.
    • Realize that it’s OK to repeat the same things each day. Some of the things that we value are priceless and can never be accounted for even if we tried. Things and people like family and friends or a place to live might be examples of this.

    Still Unsure About Keeping a Journal?

    Try keeping a journal for a week. You have nothing to lose!

    Please also remember to leave a comment on Lean and Healthy’s social media about your experience with keeping a gratitude journal.  

    About the Author: Takwa Sharif is a freelance writer and editor from Salt Lake City, Utah. She holds a Master of Arts in English and also has minors in comparative literature and literacy. She’s a runner and loves cooking.

  • 3 Scientifically Proven Ways to Improve Your Willpower

    Willpower. It’s something that many of us wish that we had more of. Willpower is the thing that helps you turn down the cake, go for a walk when you’d rather sit, and give up smoking. In this article, I’ll talk about 3 ways that you can strengthen your willpower.

    “I’ll have one more piece of cake and then it’ll all be good. After, all I’ve been good for over a month now.”

    “But you won’t stop there! You’ll eat the entire thing before you know it. Why throw away all your hard work?”

    Chances are that, like myself, you’ve had these inner conversations, especially in your lean and healthy journey. You’ve had a part of you that wanted to reach your goal, but then also had another part of yourself that seemed to always want to sabotage your goals.  

    In this blogpost, I’ll talk about how you can use willpower to reach your goals. Willpower is what will keep you motivated even when you feel like giving up.

    But before I get to talking about how you can use willpower to help yourself, let’s talk about what willpower is.

    Defining Willpower: Your Two Competing Selves

    In the Quran and Seerah (the Prophet Muhammad’s history), a special event takes place. During the battle of Uhud, the Prophet (SAW) told the archers to remain at a specific location near the mountains so that the opposing side couldn’t surround the Believers. However, after witnessing the Believers winning the battle in the initial stage, some of the archers decided to leave their post since they thought that the battle was over. But right at this moment, the opposition recognized a gap, which then led to the defeat of the Believers.

    In talking about this incident, Allah (SWT) says:

    “when you lost courage and fell to disputing about the order [given by the Prophet] and disobeyed after He had shown you that which you love. Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter. Then he turned you back from them [defeated] that He might test you. And He has already forgiven you, and Allah is the possessor of bounty for the believers” [Al-Quran, 3:152].

    Like the archers who were told to protect the Believers by staying where the Prophet (SAW) had told them to stay, our willpower can sometimes be tested by what seems like a reasonable and obvious choice. That’s because, as many researchers have, unsurprisingly, found, willpower is the managing of two competing inner selves.[1]

    Like the archer’s who were told to stand guard, willpower can…

    • be overburdened by having too many things that require its use;
    • shift as you focus on different priorities.

    Willpower Can Be Overburdened by Everyday Choices

    According to health psychologist, Dr Kelly McGonigal in her book The Willpower Instinct, a lot of things in life require willpower: controlling your anger when someone cuts you off while your driving; your child throwing a tantrum in the middle of a grocery store; your desire to use the phone while talking to your spouse.

    These examples are major ones, but there are minor things that we do that require willpower. For example:

    • Running some errands although you’d like to be at home.
    • Choosing to wait in line.
    • Having Stevia rather than table sugar with your coffee.

    What this means is that willpower is always present in your life as you constantly have to make choices. You’re also making these choices while having a goal in mind. And yep, each choice also has consequences.

    So, every time you use willpower, it depletes. That’s why after a long, stressful day at work, it’s much easier to choose to have a piece of cake than a fruit salad.

    But as Dr McGonigal points out, you can strengthen willpower in many different ways. Here are three scientifically proven ways to do so:

    #1. Strengthen Willpower by Focusing on Your Reasons  

    In Dr Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr Frankl, a pioneering psychologist, talks about his experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He argues that one of the reasons that survivors of the Holocaust were able to survive was due to having strong willpower. This strong, consistent willpower stemmed from having and finding meaning in life. These survivors also found meaning in the suffering that they had experienced[2].

    When it comes to weight loss, processes that help you find your deeper reason for wanting to lose weight will help you strengthen your willpower. Here’s an example of a procedure that will help you find your real reasons for wanting a lean and healthy life.

    It’s important that you find your reasons because of the other points that I’ll talk about later in this article.

     #2. Strengthen Willpower by Practicing Mindfulness

    One of the best ways to strengthen willpower is by practicing mindfulness[3]. Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment with curiosity. For example, after a frustrating incident at work, you might pause and think about your surroundings, how you feel at that moment, and why you feel that way.

    According to Dr McGonigal, there are different ways to practice mindfulness in tests of willpower. For example, she talks about “surfing the urge”, craving, or impulse that could sabotage your goals (233). What this means is allowing yourself to feel the urge to do something that you shouldn’t while being conscious of the thoughts that you have and how your body reacts to these thoughts. Does your heart beat faster? Do you feel more agitated?

    By practicing mindfulness and allowing these thoughts to surface, you won’t have the “rebound” effect. The “rebound effect” is when unwanted thoughts becomes stronger due to attempts to suppress them.  

    In her book, Dr McGonigal gives the example of a study conducted by researchers on a group of people who were told to not think of white bears. Guess what that group couldn’t stop thinking about? White bears! 

    Allowing the thoughts or emotions that you would rather suppress or block out to surface and have their turn will help them soften up as you remind yourself that they’re just thoughts and feelings that you don’t need to act on.

    For example, think about having the urge to have doughnut while you’re on a diet. An approach that would encourage the “rebound effect” would go like this:

    “I’m trying to lose weight but I really want that doughnut. It’s just so annoying that it’s when I’m on a diet that I want this. Why can’t I ever have self-control like other people?”

    But, with mindfulness, you’d explore your desire to have a doughnut:

    “Yeah, I really want a doughnut right now. I wonder why? It might be because it’s midmorning and I’m starting to feel stressed out about my workload today. I seem really agitated because my body’s tense.”  

    As you practice mindfulness, here are some things that you can do:

    • Ask yourself about the time, location, and events taking place during a craving or desire
    • Do NOT label or judge your thoughts: For example, “I really lack self-control because I keep having the desire to eat whenever I feel stressed.”
    • Remember that you don’t need to respond to a thought just because you have it. This idea is important because it’s totally ok to have these thoughts. Thoughts, however, don’t become actions until we make choices.

    With mindfulness, you’ll “ride” the temporary feeling of discomfort in order to reach your goal. You’re doing this by not trying to suppress or avoid an unwanted thought.

    #3. Strengthen Willpower by Accepting Discomfort Today (and Not Tomorrow!) 

    Another way to strengthen willpower is by accepting discomfort today, rather than tomorrow.

    According to Dr McGonigal, one of the ways that people sabotage their goals is by thinking that they’ll tolerate the discomfort needed to reach that goal tomorrow. For example, many people will tell themselves that they’ll skip eating healthy today because they feel like they can always count on tomorrow.

    You can accept discomfort by

    • practicing mindfulness;
    • telling yourself that every action you fail to do today because it’s too difficult or burdensome, is also an action that will continue to be difficult tomorrow. So, for example, if I tell myself that I’ll have the piece of cake today because I won’t have it tomorrow, I need to remember that I don’t always have tomorrow. The difficulties associated with this action will also continue to be there tomorrow.
    • incorporating minor changes first rather than focusing on major ones. For example, instead of promising to run for an hour tomorrow, focus on going for a walk today.

    As the famous blogger Mark Manson says in his book:

    Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or squash it, or silence it, only backfires.”[4]

    So, accept the challenges associated with reaching your goal today!

    What You Can Do

    • Strengthen your goals by writing them down, and
    • Practice mindfulness, and
    • Acknowledge the negatives associated with reaching your goals by accepting discomfort.

    About the Author: Takwa Sharif is a freelance writer and editor from Salt Lake City, Utah. She holds a Master of Arts in English and also has minors in comparative literature and literacy. She’s a runner and loves cooking.


    [1] McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Avery, 2013.

    [2]  Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press, 2006.

    [3] McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Avery, 2013.

    [4] Manson, M. The subtle art of not giving a f*ck” New York City: Harper. 2016

  • How to Transform Your Marriage from “Meh” to “Wow!”

    Your marriage can be your gateway to paradise or hellfire. If it is a beautiful marriage, it can be a means of increasing your energy, productivity and happiness in this life. It can also be a means of salvation in the next world. On the flip side, a broken marriage is one of the biggest stressors on your life and it’s also the destroyer of your happiness and life in both worlds. In this article, I share nine qualities that can help you transform your marriage from “meh” (i.e.mediocre) to “wow!” (i.e. superb and successful), bi’idnillah!

    When coaching 100s of people around the world, I’ve found that people who are enjoying a healthy relationship with their spouse are better able to achieve their health and fitness goals. They also tend to lead a satisfied life. I think that’s because the satisfaction of their marriage motivates them to push beyond their comfort zone and try new things in life. Increased motivation along with a supporting partner facilitate them to achieve things that are usually seen as “impossible”.

    While a blissful marriage is a blessing for everyone around them, a broken marriage is a misery not only for the involved couples but also for the children and the people around them. So, a broken marriage can cause havoc not only in your relationship but also in every other area of your life.

    Or to be blunter: A happy married life is like a ladder that helps you to climb over the hurdles you face in your life. A broken marriage is like a big massive wall in your way. It’s a hurdle itself for all your happiness, achievement and success in both worlds.

    I sincerely hope that the nine qualities I share will be of great benefit for anyone who is looking to improve their marital life. These qualities I share in this article are based on Islamic teachings, the latest scientific research and things that I’ve implemented successfully in my own life. They’re advice that I’ve taught to many around me, alhamdulillah!

    Ok, before we continue, here is a little disclaimer: I’m a nutrition and exercise coach, not a marriage therapist or relationship coach. So, please don’t contact me for any of your marital issues. Instead, to help you with your marriage, turn to the books and resources I share at the end of this article.

    Nine qualities to transform your marriage from “meh” to “wow!”:

    1. Start by finding your “why”!

    If you know me well, then you know that I always talk about how important having a purpose is. If you want to change anything in life, the first step should be finding the purpose or the true “why.” Why do you want to transform your marriage in the first place? What do you want to achieve with this transformation?

    So, I suggest that you start with this question: “Why do I want to transform my marriage from “meh” to “wow!”?

    Knowing why you want to transform your marriage from mediocre to great is the first step towards a successful marriage.  To help you understand the process of finding your why, read this. This article explains to you how you can find your real why.

    Once you know your true why, it will motivate you to make your marriage a great success.

    I mean, if you aren’t willing to save your marriage and you aren’t truly committed to it, then nothing in the world is going to help you, right?

    So, start with finding your why and that’s pretty much the first step towards progressing to a marriage that leaves you saying “wow!”, bi’idnillah!

    2. Utilise your best weapon – Du’a

    With the why, you know which direction to go. However, this first step is pretty much useless if you don’t get the Divine assistance to attain the outcome that you seek.

    So, it’s time that you utilise your best weapon to implore Allah for help. Yep, I’m talking about the power of du’a.

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala says in the Qur’an:

    “When my servants ask you concerning me, (tell them) I am indeed close (to them). I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on me.” (Al-Quran, 2:186)

    It’s as if Allah is giving you a blank cheque and asking you to ask for anything that you want. And, of course, He promises that He’ll attend to it.

    Subhanallah, who else is better to help you than your own Creator?!

    If you are truly determined, and you are ready to put the work to make your marriage the most beautiful one, then Allah’s help isn’t far from you. So, beg to Him, because, for Him all matters are easy and all He has to say is “Kun” and it is!

    In Surah Furqan, Allah subuhanawuta’ala even teaches us how to make du’a for a successful marriage.

    And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.” (Al-Quran, 25:74).

    Use this du’a from the Quran to help you formulate the right words to ask for what you need. And beg to Him with all of your heart believing that He will, indeed, respond.

    3. Provide unconditional love

    How can you happily spend a lifetime with a person, if you don’t cherish and love that person unconditionally?

    Loving unconditionally? Yep, what I’m saying is that you should love your spouse regardless of his/her flaws and mistakes. You love that person with all their imperfections.

    That may sound hard but think about your own flaws. Don’t you expect that your spouse loves you regardless of your mistakes?

    The reality is this: except for Prophet Muhammed (SAW), no human being is perfect and each and every one of us has our own shortcomings. So, if we were to love a person based on a condition, (“he or she should be like this” and “he or she shouldn’t be like that”) then you’ll never come across a person whom you can love.

    So, one of the most important qualities that helps you to transform your marriage is that you love your spouse unconditionally.

    That unconditional love should also reflect on your duties towards your spouse. Do your duties with ihsan (perfection) and don’t be too demanding of your own rights.

    On the Day of Judgment, Allah would ask each of you about your rights and obligations towards one another. And you want to make sure that you excel in your duties towards your spouse and that you are forgiving with the rights that are due to you. That’s certainly a safer position for your success in this world and in the Aakhira (Hereafter).

    Here are a few ways how you can excel in showing your love in words, emotions and in actions:

    1. Say I love you frequently, even if you had an argument just before. As I said, your love should be unconditional.
    2. Kiss your spouse often. Create 100s of opportunities to kiss. Has she or he just entered the house? Kiss. See him/her in the kitchen? Kiss. Here is a good exercise for you. Brainstorm and write down at least 5 opportunities you can use to kiss your spouse daily
    3. Give a lot of compliments. Say things like,“Wow, you look great in this dress” and “masha Allah, you’ve cooked an excellent dinner”,
    4. Spend a lot of time in very fulfilling and beautiful intimacy. Though this subject is rarely discussed in Islamic circles, lack of intimacy is one of the leading causes of marriages falling apart.

    As a married couple, you need to frankly talk about this issue. You need to inform your partner about your likes and dislikes in intimacy.

    In the Quran, Allah says, “… your wives are your garments, and you are their garments” (Al-Quran; 2:187). So, part of being his/her “garment” is also to protect his/her chastity by giving them the ultimate satisfying sex life in your marriage.

    4. Consider your in-laws as your family

    How can you truly love your spouse, if you don’t even love and respect the persons who brought your spouse to this world? I mean there is a reason why we call them “parents-in-law”. They have almost the same rights and duties as your biological parents and these rights and duties are now given to them by the legal pact of marriage.

    So, part of loving your spouse is also loving his/her family.

    Abuse or disrespect towards in-laws is one of the biggest reasons for a broken marriage. If your relationship with your in-laws is sound, your marriage will be sound; otherwise, it may look like sound from outside, but it’s NEVER really sound!

    When you fix your relationship with your parents in law, you’ll most probably fix your relationship with your spouse. That’s what I call killing two birds with one stone!

    5. Connect through unconditional service

    The more connected you are towards your spouse, the better your relationship becomes. But you might be wondering what I mean by “connecting”.

    Connecting is finding ways to help your spouse whenever possible. Every act of service counts.

    And what’s most important is, that you don’t categorise the chores at home or the errands outside home as “mine” or “his/hers”.

    Being the bread-winners of the family, most men have this strong belief that they don’t need to help their wives, since their responsibility is to earn money. They believe everything else should be taken care of his wife.

    But this is totally against the Sunnah.

    When asked what did the Prophet (SAW) used to do in his house, Aisha, (RA) replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it” (Al-Bukhari).

    This sunnah helps men to strengthen their romance life too.

    In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman says it beautifully:

     “…romance is strengthened in the supermarket aisle when your partner asks, ‘Are we out of butter?’ and you answer, ‘I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,’ instead of shrugging apathetically.”

    6. Showing Gratitude 

    John Gottman, the man that I mentioned before, is a psychologist, scientist and an expert in marital relations. In the book I mentioned earlier, he says that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative affect (5:1 or greater), it is likely that their marriage will end.

    He gives us a simple way to increase this positivity ratio. According to him, the best way to boost your positivity ratio is to practice gratitude in your marriage.

    Showing gratitude is basically thanking your spouse for every little help and favour they do. That’s it.

    In a separate article, I’ve discussed in detail how to practice gratitude towards your spouse. It’s one of the most read articles. So make sure to read it.

    But the most important thing to remember is this: Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah” (Ahmad)

    7. Spend a lot of quality time with your spouse

    The greatest gift you can give to your spouse is your own mindful presence, i.e. you give your full attention without any distractions. Yeah, that means you PUT DOWN YOUR SMARTPHONE and engage with your loved ones.

    So, what do you do in your quality time? If you have nothing to say or do, at least just hold your spouse hands. According to the latest research from the University of Gothenburg, “long-lasting gentle touch decreases stress hormones and decelerate heartbeat frequency. It also activates brain areas commonly linked to reward

    John Gottman, the renowned psychologist from the University of Gothenburg further elaborates in his book, how spending time with your spouse will both save your marriage and health:

    “I often think that if fitness buffs spent just 10 per cent of their weekly workout time—say, twenty minutes a day—working on their marriage instead of their bodies, they would get three times the health benefits they derive from exercise class or the treadmill.”

    8. Be the first to say “sorry”

    Happy marriages aren’t devoid of problems or arguments, but what makes these marriages different from the rest is that couples in these marriages don’t linger on the arguments or problems that they have.

    So, if you have an argument with your spouse and regardless of who initiated the argument, be the first to say sorry.

    The simple sorry will diffuse the tension and will help you to garner the respect of your spouse, insha Allah.

    Moreover, the forgiving of your spouse is a means for you to receive forgiveness from Allah subuhanawuta’la. Allah says “. . . and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Al-Quran, 24:22)

    9. Save your best treatment for your spouse

    “The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character. And the best of you are those who are best to their women.” (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

    “The best of you is the one who is best to his family, and I am the best of you to my family.” (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

    There is so much wisdom behind these narrations. One of the most important aspects to understand is that it’s easy to be the best to everyone outside your home. That’s because they are oblivious of most of your weaknesses and flaws. All they see is the well-dressed and well-mannered person in front of them.

    However, at home the story is different. You family knows everything about you and your flaws. For you to be recognised as the best to your family by your own family members, despite your imperfections, is indeed one of the greatest of achievements.

    So, trying to claim the title “the best to your family” is truly an uphill battle. You seriously need to work on many fronts to achieve that state. But it’s a struggle that’s really worth it. Not only it will grant you joy, happiness and contentment in this world, but it will also be very heavy on your scale on the Day of Judgement.

    Here are a few ways how you can start implementing this aspect into your life:

    • Treat your spouse, as if you would treat a noble guest at home. Just as you wouldn’t shout at your noble guest and would always present your best side, treat your spouse likewise.
    • Dress up beautifully for your spouse. No one deserves to admire your beauty more than your spouse does. You should impress your spouse not only through your character but also through your appearance. In this, we have beautiful examples from our salaf. It has been narrated, that Ibn Abbas (RA) used to beautify himself every time before entering his house. In response to those who laughed at him, he replied: “I like toembellish myself for my wife, just as I like her to beautify for me”.
    • Choose compliments over criticism. Whenever you find positive behaviours of your spouse, compliment them. Never criticise your spouse. Criticism never helps to improve your relationship.

    Final Words

    No article, book or therapists can solve all your marital problems immediately. But by incorporating these nine qualities in your marriage, you can change the course of your relationship, bi’idnillah! Sometimes a small change can bring huge benefits over time.

    So, here’s what I suggest. Among these nine qualities, choose the two easiest ones and try to implement in your life for the next two weeks. Remember to be as consistent as possible.

    You’ll, insha Allah, notice tiny improvements in your relationship. Then choose another quality and practice it for another 2-3 weeks. Over time you’ll be able to practice all these nine qualities with ease and then you’ll realise how much your relationship has improved.

    If you are committed and ready to put the work, you’ll see improvements down the road.

    Resources

    I hope the following resources will be of great benefit for you.

  • How to Instantly Achieve Calmness and Increase Your Energy

    We often want to achieve a lot while doing very little work, and this usually happens by looking for some shortcuts. Though I’m not a fan of shortcuts, as there are rarely any shortcuts to success, what I’m going to discuss today is an exception. There is indeed a scientifically verified shortcut that will help you to achieve instant calmness and which will increase your energy. This hack will also optimise your health. So, what’s that shortcut? Taking some simple breaths!

    There’s something that you can’t live without. Yes, you may last for weeks without food, days without water, but what you truly can’t live without is oxygen. You can only last a few minutes without oxygen. However, humans rarely appreciate this automatic act. Breathing is taken for granted and that’s why we hardly ever stop to think about the importance of it.

    If you’ve been reading my articles, you know that I often talk about four fundamentals for a Lean & Healthy life; these fundamentals are praying, eating, moving and sleeping. Nevertheless, knowing what I know now, breathing is definitely on top of my list.

    So, get ready to discover the most undervalued, underappreciated fundamental of all fundamentals: breathing!

    Oxygen = Cell fuel

    “What if I said I had a medicine that would keep you calm but alert? That would relax and energize you? That would help you recover, boost your immune system, lower the oxidative stress that causes ageing, power you up, and fuel every cell in your body, from your frazzled brain to your taxed muscles? You’d say, ‘Give it to me,’ right? Well, here it is. And no side effects. Take it every day—doctor’s orders” (Vranich, 01).

    Dr Belisa Vranich, a leading clinical psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on how to breathe talks about the importance of breathing in her ground-breaking book Breathe!

    In her book, Vranich emphasizes that oxygen equals cell fuel.  Quoting Dr Arthur Guyon’s research, Vranich writes, “all chronic pain, suffering, and disease are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level . . . Proper breathing nourishes the cells of the body with oxygen, and optimizes the functioning of the body on all levels” 

    The importance of oxygen stretches far beyond your imagination. Take your brain for instance. Your brain utilizes 20% of the oxygen, you breathe. This means that your productivity, memory power, decision-making ability and mental health all depend highly on the oxygen you inhale.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

    So, if you’re not breathing properly you’re simply not performing optimally. Full stop.

    So, finding it difficult to focus? Breathe properly. Finding it difficult to make a decision? Breathe properly. Feeling anxious and stressed out? Breathe properly. Annoyed with a loved one? Breathe properly.

    Does breathing properly sounds like a panacea? To some extent it is! Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Dr Kelly McGonigal says in her book, The Willpower Instinct:

    “You won’t find many quick fixes in this book, but there is one way to immediately boost willpower: Slow your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute. That’s ten to fifteen seconds per breath—slower than you normally breathe, but not difficult with a little bit of practice and patience. Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode. A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling cravings or challenges”.

    The Art of Slow Breathing

    Now, science is unequivocal about this. If you want to breathe properly, breathe less! Yes, just like overeating is unhealthy for you, over breathing is unhealthy for you too.

    My job as a coach is to simplify the science so that you can take immediate action. Here are three simple rules to remember to breathe less.

    Rule #1: Breathe through your nose

    Now, this may sound obvious, but the fact is most people, unbeknownst to them, inhale through their mouth. Breathing through your mouth, in general, is bad for you (except for when you’re running hard from a dog chasing you 🙂

    According to Dr Vranich, “Mouth breathing can also disrupt the pH balance of the blood, making it too alkaline. Alkalosis can lead to feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and chronic pain conditions.

    Nose breathing, on the other hand, has its own benefits, including increases of CO2 saturation in the blood, which creates a calming effect”.

    So, what’s the easiest way to breathe through your nose? Keep your mouth shut.

    Allah (SWT)created your mouth to eat and talk and your nose to breathe and smell. And there is wisdom in each of Allah’s creation. Science now says that when you breathe through your nose, the air you inhale will be filtered and humidified. This means that there are fewer chances for harmful pathogens to enter into your body.

    Rule #2: Breathe into your belly

    When you take deep breaths through your nose, you’ll eventually breathe into your belly. Here is a simple way to check whether or not you are breathing into your ageing. Keep your right hand on the belly and take a deep breath through your nose (while keeping your mouth shut). Is your belly expanding while breathing? If the answer is yes, then you’re doing it right.

    Check out this video from Dr Vranich on the correct way to breathe in.

    Rule #3: Exhale slightly longer than you inhale

    When you exhale slightly longer than you inhale, you are in fact turning on your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to relax.

    But exhaling has another extremely important function. Your exhaling is responsible for 70% of your body’s detoxification! That’s right, if you are not correctly exhaling, you are not detoxifying correctly. Squeezing out the air out of your diaphragm also means that you’re detoxifying your body. Subhanallah, what an inexpensive way to detoxify!

    5+2+7 = Magic

    Now here is a simple way to implement all these three rules easily.

    What does 5, 2 and 7 stands for? They stand for seconds.

    1. Inhale for 5 seconds (obviously through your nose),
    2. Hold your breath for 2 seconds and
    3. Exhale (again through your nose) for 7 seconds
    4. Repeat these steps 5 times

    The instant calm and increased energy I talked about is just achieved through this simple exercise. All it takes is just a minute, you can do this anywhere, and anytime you like.

    Here is how I use it:

    • Just after waking up
    • Before going to sleep
    • Before my nap
    • Before I start to write
    • Before I start to do any productive work
    • When I feel annoyed
    • When I find it difficult to focus
    • When I feel anxious and stressed out
    • When my kids push me to my limits 🙂

    As you see, you can use this simple technique in many areas throughout your day. The more you use it, the better you become at this technique and the better you’ll feel throughout your day, bi’idnillah!

    Increase Your Gains Exponentially

    If you want to increase your gains exponentially, do this breathing technique along with sending Salawath upon the Prophet Muhammed (SAW).

    Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) saying: “Whoever supplicates Allah to exalt my mention (i.e., send salah), Allah will exalt his mention (i.e., send salah) ten times and remove from him ten sins and raise him ten degrees.” (Muslim)

    Just imagine what will truly happen to you when Allah Himself sends blessings upon you.

    Something to Reflect

    Recently, I was in a high-stakes meeting. Just before the meeting, I was very nervous, so I decided to make this breathing technique and eventually spent time on sending Salawath upon the Prophet Muhammed (SAW).

    After the meeting, one of the high-ranking officers asked me how I managed to be so calm despite being scrutinized by four people with endless questions. My answer was just a smile; I didn’t want to explain to him what I had prepared beforehand 🙂

    My point in sharing this story is that you can always make an act that’s beneficial to you a good deed by incorporating aspects of the Deen. So the next time you feel stressed out or tired, remember the steps that I mentioned and try the breathing exercise. It will definitely change your mood.

  • How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You a Better Person

    In part one, we discussed the five undeniable rewards of being a thankful servant of Allah. In this part, we’ll explore what the latest science has to say about gratitude and how practising this noble act can make you a better person.

    Practicing gratitude is one of the utmost fundamentals of Islam. In our previous article, we discussed the importance of it and also the rewards we get from Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

    In this article, I would like to explore the latest research about gratitude and show you how practising gratitude on a daily basis can make you a better person.

    Enter Thanks!

    Dr Robert Emmons is a professor at the University of California, and he’s one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude.

    In his outstanding book Thanks!, he deciphers why gratitude can literally be one of the few things that measurably change peoples’ lives.

    Based on scientific research, this book validates what the Quran and Sunnah teach us about gratitude.

    Here are five things from this book I’ve learned and implemented in my life:

    #1. Gratitude Boosts Happiness

    From a scientific angle, Emmons argues that gratitude is a key to happiness. And as human beings, we all want to be happy, don’t we?

    And there are lots of benefits of being happy and here are some based on recent researches:

    • Research shows that happy people have a higher income, a greater productivity and have a higher quality of work
    • Happy people also have larger social rewards (such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions)
    • Happiness also improves your immune system, lowers stress levels and improves your overall physical health
    • Happy individuals are also more creative, helpful, charitable, have better self-control, self-confidence and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.

    Wow! So much goodness in just being happy! You can boost your happiness just by practising gratitude to Allah subuhanawuta’ala and the people around you. Now, isn’t that awesome?

    #2. Gratitude Wards Off Your Negative Feelings

    Gratitude not only boosts your happiness, but it can also ward off your negative feelings when you are clouded with them.

    Psychologists refer this fact to emotional incompatibility. In simple language, this is what they mean: You can’t experience both positive emotions and negative emotions at the same time, i.e. you can’t be happy and sad at the same time.

    By practising a positive emotion such as gratitude during a difficult time, you are in fact warding off negative emotions instantly.

    #3. Practice Gratitude When Things Go Hard and Challenging

    This point is something similar to #2, but it’s not the same. In #2 we discussed negative feelings, and here we are going to discuss situations that are hard and challenging.

    You see, it’s fairly easy to feel grateful when everything’s going well, but it’s not easy to be grateful for our blessings when we face challenging times.

    But here is a little secret: It’s during our challenging times we grow the most! Prophet (SAW) hints on this in the following hadith:

    “Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affairs are good, and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him, he is grateful, and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him, he is patient, and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim)

    So how can you practice gratitude when things go hard?

    Here is a simple way to implement:

    Whenever you are faced with a hard and challenging time, think about just one positive outcome in that hard time. The truth is, regardless of how worse the situation is, there is always a positive outcome.

    That’s one of our fundamental beliefs as Muslims. Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) embodied this behaviour while reacting to calamities. He said,

    “If Allah strikes me with calamity I will thank Allah for four things:

    1. that the test was not in my deen (my religion)
    2. the calamity could have been worse
    3. it is an expiation for my sins
    4. any loss after losing the Prophet (PBUH) is nothing.”

    #4. Practicing Gratitude Towards Your Spouse Improves Your Relationship

    Leading psychologist John Gottman is an expert in marital relations. In his two decades of observational research, he concludes that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative affect (5:1 or greater), it is likely that their marriage will end (or at least the marriage won’t be a satisfying one).

    So, according to Gottman, the ratio of love is 5:1, i.e. you got to have at least five positive interactions with your spouse for every negative interaction.

    Gottman has become so good at spotting the strengths and weaknesses of a marriage, he can predict with 90 percent accuracy whether the marriage will end in divorce or not, often after just three minutes of observation in his marriage lab.

    Guess what; there is a way to boost your positive to negative ratio instantly: Practicing gratitude in your marriage.  

    Here are few ways how I practice gratitude in my marriage:

    • I thank my wife for EVERY meal she prepares for me
    • I always look for opportunities to say “Thank you” even for the little things she does for me
    • I take few minutes every day (sometimes just before I go to sleep) to share at least three things I appreciate about her

    Simple practices such as these can transform your marriage. Don’t trust my words?  Implement them in your life and see how your marriage life transforms instantly, bi’idnillah!

    Now, what one thing you can do to practice gratitude in your marriage or your relationship with others?

    #5. Writing a Gratitude Journal Before Bed Improves Sleep Quality

    Emmons says:

    “It may sound simplistic, but the evidence cannot be ignored: if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”

    He says, people who jotted the blessing before bed, slept more time, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening.

    And I can testify to this. Since I’ve read this book, I’ve been writing “Alhamdulillah Journal” just before I go to sleep and feeling a difference in my sleep.

    I keep a simple notebook next to my bed and scribble five simple things I’m grateful for on that day. It looks something like this

    • Alhamdulillah for the cool, clean water
    • Alhamdulillah for the nice warm bed
    • Alhamdulillah for the healthy meals
    • Alhamdulillah for my three little princesses
    • Alhamdulillah for the beautiful view from my balcony

    As you notice, I mention both the small and big blessings. That’s because I want to be a thankful servant of Allah and thank Him for every little blessing and don’t want to take things for granted.

    I also write different blessings every day, as I want to avoid “gratitude fatigue” by counting fresh new blessings every day. This way you train your brain to look for new blessings, instead of focusing on new problems.

    Few Other Ways to Practice Gratitude

    Part of being a thankful servant of Allah, we should increase our good deeds as much as we can and avoid the bad deeds to the best of our ability. That’s the most fundamental part of being thankful to our Creator.

    Apart from that, here are few more ways how we can show gratitude to Him and the people around us:

    • Each of us has been blessed with the different type of blessings. We got to practice mentioning them verbally. Al-Hassan said, “constantly mention these favours, for mentioning them is giving thanks”. We can mention these blessing to our close family members in order to remind all of us about Allah’s countless blessings.
    • While reciting the frequent supplications such as after eating, drinking, dressing etc., be extra mindful of the meaning. When you praise Allah, feel it from your heart. Don’t just parrot the words, feel the thankfulness in your heart.
    • Practicing gratitude from your heart is a noble act. Remember this hadith very often: Allah is pleased with a man who eats food and praises Him for it, and takes a drink and praises Him for it. (Sahih Muslim, No. 6932)
    • Part of showing gratitude to Allah is showing gratitude to people. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi) Perhaps, we should start this from our own homes. Are we thankful to our parents, spouses, siblings for all their help? How often we thank our spouse for the daily chore they do?
  • 5 Undeniable Rewards for Being a Thankful Servant of Allah

    If we were to count the blessings of Allah, we would never be able to do it. Yet, we take most of the blessings for granted and do little to be thankful for those blessings. However, being a thankful servant of Allah is a fundamental thing in our religion. In this article, we’ll explore five undeniable rewards for being a thankful servant.

    A few years back, I saw a documentary that depicted people’s struggle to get water. These people would spend one-third of their waking hours searching for water! And most of the time, a family of four members have as little as 5 litres of water to utilise for the entire day!

    Imagine this; you expend more water while flushing the toilet!

    I live in a country where the tap water is equally good or better than bottled water. For most of my life, I took that blessing of cool, clean water from the tap for granted!

    However, my attitude dramatically changed when I came across an excellent book by Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim (rahimahumullah). In his book, Excellence of Patience & Gratefulness, he states that showing gratitude for the blessings of Allah subuhanawuta’ala is half of our faith.

    He further argues that the purpose of our creation is that we give thanks to Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

    “And Allah has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful.” (Al-Quran, 16:78)

    Shaytan, our biggest enemy, knows the position of gratitude in Islam very well and that’s why he took it upon himself to turn people from this highest and loftiest act. His encounter with Allah subuhanawuta’ala is recorded in the Quran:

    “Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful (to You).” (Al-Quran, 7:17)

    Virtues of Being Thankful

    “A person who eats and is thankful is like the person who fasts and is patient” (Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi)

    Being a thankful servant of Allah brings us immense virtues both in this and the next world. In this article, I want to share five remarkable rewards I’ve extracted from the fantastic book of Imam Ibn Al-Qayyum. I hope this article is a reminder for you and me to be a more thankful servant of Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

    #1. Allah Increases Our Sustenance

    We spend most of our waking hours looking for ways to increase our sustenance. However, we mostly forget that there is also one simple but effective way to increase our sustenance, i.e. by thanking Allah for His endless blessings.

    Allah says, Your Lord proclaimed: If you give thanks, I will give you an increase (Al-Quran, 14:7)

    The essence of this beautiful ayah is captured by Ali bin Abu Talib’s (RA) advice to a man. He said, “bounty is attached to the giving of thanks, and being thankful is linked with an increase; they are bound together. Therefore, the increase from Allah will not cease unless the gratitude of the servant stops.”

    So, let us strive to say “Alhamdulillah” from our heart for each and every tiny blessing of Allah.

    We know from the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), that he would say, ‘Al-hamdu Lillaahi ‘ala kulli haal (praise be to Allah in all circumstances)’ even if he came across something he disliked. (Saheeh Ibn Maajah, classed as hasan by al-Albaani)

    #2. Being Singled out for Allah’s Favour

    Out of His infinite mercy, Allah subuhanawuta’ala singles out His favour upon those who are thankful to him.

    “And thus We have tried some of them through others that the disbelievers might say, “Is it these whom Allah has favoured among us?” Is not Allah most knowing of those who are grateful?” (Al-Quran, 6:53)

    This high status belongs to those who are thankful to his Lord. I mean, what a greater blessing is out there than to be singled out as a receiver of His favour?

    #3. Showing Gratitude Protects Your Existing Blessings

    Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “Surely Allah grants favours as He wishes, but if it is not acknowledged by giving thanks, He returns it into torment.”

    So, your best “insurance policy” is to give thanks to Allah. Every time you acknowledge and thank Allah for His blessings, you are also protecting your existing blessings He has bestowed upon you.

    Umar bin Abd al-‘Aziz (rahimahumullah) put this succinctly:

    “Tie the favour of Allah by giving thanks to Allah”.

    #4. Gratitude Gets Rewarded Without Any Conditions

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala made many of His rewards conditional to His will. For example, He says “…Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills.” (Al-Quran, 9:28)

    When mentioning about the provision, He says, “Allah provides for whom He wills without account” (Al-Quran, 3:37) and in the same Surah, when He talks about forgiveness and punishment, He says, “He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills.” (Al-Quran, 3:129)

    Likewise in many other instances, He mentions His rewards are conditional to His will. However, when it comes to gratitude, He says He will reward the thankful ones, without any conditions, “And we will reward the grateful.” (Al-Quran, 3:145)

    Subhanallah, what a blessing is that!

    #5. Allah Is Pleased with a Person Who Shows Gratitude

    Allah is pleased with a man who eats food and praises Him for it, and takes a drink and praises Him for it. (Sahih Muslim, No. 6932)

    Look at the eternal mercy of Allah subuhanawuta’ala. He provides us with food and drink out of His mercy, and when we thank Him for that blessing, although He is no need of our gratitude, He is pleased with us. Subhanallah!

    What greater reward can we wish for then receiving His pleasure? After all, it’s His pleasure that causes us to enter into the eternal Jannah.

    So, let us strive to be of those who are grateful for all of Allah’s blessings. May Allah subuhanawuta’ala make us among those few who are thankful to Him. Allah warns us, “And few of My servants are grateful.” (Al-Quran, 34:13)

    Next Up

    In part 2 of this article, we’ll explore what the latest science has to say about gratitude and the simple ways we can be more grateful to Allah subuhanawuta’ala and the people around us.

  • 3 Ways How Transforming Your Body Impacts Your Life Positively

    “Is it really worth it?”. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight and get into shape, then this is something that you’ve most likely asked yourself. In this article, I talk about three ways how transforming your body impacts your life positively. I use Islam and science to show you why you should invest in your body.

    Every morning, I reflect on the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon my life. And undoubtedly, the biggest blessing of all is that He has gifted me with Islam.

    Alhamdulillah, being a Muslim means that I have been given simple and clear divine instructions through the Quran and the Sunnah to lead an abundant life. I’m not left to my own devices so that I have to figure out what the “true purpose” of life is or how to lead a meaningful life because I already know through the Quran and Sunnah what a good life is and looks like.

    On that note, the following hadith is one of my favourite hadiths because it lays down in a succinct manner what my priorities should be and how I can live as Prophet (SAW) said, Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.– Shu’ab al-Imān 9575, Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani.

    Well, what about you? When you think about how you can be successful, do you use these five factors to your benefit? Do your actions show that your biggest priority in this life is to prepare yourself for the Afterlife? And there can be nothing more important than entering the Highest Paradise, right? After all, the Prophet (SAW) said: 

    “In Paradise, there are a hundred levels, what is between every two levels is like what is between the heavens and the earth. Al Firdaus is the highest level, and from it, the four rivers of Paradise are made to flow forth. So when you ask Allah, ask Him for Al-Firdaus.” -Jami at-Tirmidhi 2531, Sahih (authentic).

    If you want to achieve this goal, then you need to work on two things: health and wasting time. That’s why Prophet (SAW) said, “There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) Health and free time for doing good.” – Sahih al-Bukhari 6412. So, if you really want to maximise your life, then you need to reflect on how you use these two blessings.

    How Improving My Health Was a Game Changer

    When I was overweight, sick and deprived of energy, I was leading a mediocre life. Though I was constantly trying to improve my life, my overweight body wasn’t very helpful in getting the results I wanted. Most importantly, I had very low-energy to be consistent with anything.

    However, things started to change dramatically, when I finally learned to eat healthily. Healthy eating coupled with exercise and deep sleep helped me lose my excess weight. I was also stronger and energised.

    And that newly-won energy in my life was a catalyst for a long list of achievements in my life, alhamdulillah! Now as nutrition and exercise coach, I see the same pattern in my clients too.

    I’ve helped countless people in more than 30 countries around the world to achieve the best shape of their lives while improving their health and energy levels. Transforming their bodies inevitably transformed many aspects of their lives. Specifically, I’ve noticed three particular characteristics that emerge from my clients when they go through this body transformation:

    #1. Increased Energy

    This is perhaps the biggest win for most of my clients.

    To level up your life so that you can achieve success in this world and the Aakhira, you first need to harness your energy levels.

    The truth is, there’s no real way for you to manage your time wisely; you can, however, manage the tasks you complete during a given time. And managing your tasks invariably depends on your energy level. So, if you’re energised throughout the day and if you use this energy to your advantage, you’ll achieve the success that you’ve always dreamt of, bi’idnillah!

    That being said, here are five practical tips to maintain an increased energy level throughout the day:

    1. Improve your khushu (focus) in your prayers. You should also increase the amount of dhikr you do throughout the day.
    2. Eat nutritious foods at every meal and make sure to include plenty of vegetables, protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. You are what you eat. So there is a lot of truth to this saying, as the food you eat has a humongous impact on your mind and body.
    3. Exercise intelligently at least 4-5 times a week. By intelligently, I mean really use this time to lift and sweat. And do it in the morning hours!
    4. Sleep at least 7 hours and include a short-nap during the afternoon. In particular, at 1-3 pm every day.
    5. Drink plenty of water. Hydration plays an incredibly important role in managing your energy level. So, drink at least eight glasses of water.

    #2. Increased Confidence

    Because I’m a fitness and nutrition coach, I love seeing my clients succeed in all areas of their life, especially mentally! That’s why I’ve read plenty of books on how to boost self-esteem. There are lots of theories how to do it, but what helped me most in my life was when I achieved the best shape of my life. I went from fat to fit! The experience I gained from my unbelievable body transformation made me believe that I can achieve anything I want in my life if I follow an already trodden and well-founded path, bi’idnillah!

    I’ve noticed this pattern repeatedly in my clients too. Just a few days back, one of my clients, who lost around 20 kg of weight following my Lean & Healthy coaching Programme, wrote this to me:

    “Also I was invited to speak at an investment forum (….), and I accepted – this is partly down to my new found confidence to get on stage and do this. 

    Thanks so much Rushdie, May ALLAH Bless everything you do brother. You are doing amazing work for the Muslim Ummah.”

    As you probably know, anything worthwhile happens just out of your comfort zone. The boost in your self-confidence helps you to dare to step out outside of your comfort zone and try new things. Or more importantly, tackle your existing challenges in a different way. And that’s the first step towards an abundant life!

    #3. Increased Engagement in Personal Development

    Many people are passive spectators in their lives. They go to work every day, come home, sleep and repeat this routine for the rest of their lives. While this fixed routine helps them to live a decent life, it doesn’t really entice them to live an abundant one. One that’s rich, vibrant, and full of potential!

    However, there are many other people who are very active in what they want in their lives. They aren’t spectators; instead, they make things happen. That’s because they dare to disrupt their routine to make it better and worthwhile. They’re poised to improve their lives, and they plan to make sure their tomorrows are better than their todays. They also work hard to make their todays better than their yesterdays. And yes, this shift in their mentality helps them improve in every area of their lives.

    These are the people who constantly develop themselves so that they can be a better parent, spouse, employees, employer and most importantly a better slave of Allah subuhanawuta’la. So, these are the people who have an increased engagement in personal and spiritual development.

    Most of my clients report to me how transforming their body helped them to increase their engagement in personal and spiritual development. Some of my clients even reported to me how their behaviour changed towards their children, and how less annoyed or angry they felt when talking to others.

    This may sound very strange, but the truth is, when you start to implement a strategic system in order to achieve better health or to lose weight, you also end up transforming other areas of your life, knowingly or unknowingly.

    Maximising the Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Your Goals

    The first reason that you change other areas of your life is because of the mind-body connection. Your mind and body are interconnected: any positive (or negative) change in your body will be an improvement (or setback) in your mental state. So, as cliché, as it may sound, when you attempt to transform your body, you transform your mind and in that process transform your life forever!

    The second reason is linked to this mind-body connection: any positive type of discipline or regiment that you incorporate into your life requires some willpower, a change of mindset, and, of course, positivity. So, when you start working out or eating healthily, you make this connection stronger because you’re working towards a goal.

    So, anyone who tells you that your weight loss and fitness goals are superficial hasn’t truly learned or experienced how exercising and eating right can make you mentally fit, resilient, and positive! And yes, these are noble goals to have that you should keep working toward. Remember, great health isn’t a one-stop affair; it’s a lifestyle!

  • (Part 2) 10 Scientifically Backed Tools to Boost Your Brain Health

    Like your body, your brain needs to be trained so that it can achieve its full potential. In part one, you read about two of the most important tools to boost your brain health. In this article, I talk about the rest of the 8 tools that will help optimise your brain.

    “Train hard and push yourself.” This is the advice that you’ll typically get if you’re a regular at the gym (or wherever it is that you work out).

    Why? Because as time goes by, your body tends to adjust to the workout. The same routine that was making you sweat is no longer as effective because your body’s gotten stronger.

    I mention this because like the rest of your body, your brain can (and should be!) be trained so that you can achieve your full potential. I’ll tell you exactly how.

    Last week, I covered how to fuel your brain. This week, I’ll go over the last 8 strategies that will transform your brain.

    Tool #3: Exercise

    When our body moves, our brain grows! That’s why exercise is an excellent brain health booster!

    As I’ve mentioned previously, our body has been designed to move and not to sit for a long time. You can observe this in you daily life: whenever you move, you feel mentally and physically better. That’s because you don’t get an adrenaline rush when you sit for a long time. You also don’t get the accompanying feeling of having accomplished a goal.

    So, moving or exercising is one of the best ways to improve all of your cognitive abilities!

    Working out

    • improves your mood,
    • lowers your blood pressure,
    • lowers your blood sugar levels,
    • reduces your overall stress levels, and
    • improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain

    Given the benefits of working out, it’s no surprise that 100s and 1000s of studies have found that cognitive abilities are best in those who exercise.

    Any movement or exercise is beneficial to your brain health. However, make sure you strike a balance by adding strength exercise, interval exercise and moderate cardio to your exercise regime.

    Even mindful exercises, such as yoga, help reduce anxiety and increase your focus.

    Tool #4: Get Some Sleep!

    One of the quickest ways to hurt your brain is to get less than 7 hours of sleep at night.

    Studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep impacts our memory and learning ability negatively. Those who had less than 7 hours of sleep recalled more negative rather than positive thoughts during the day.

    In a previous article, I’ve detailed the dangers of skipping or reducing sleep.

    Apart from these dangers, there’s one more crucial connection between sleep and optimal brain function.

    In one of my favourite TED talks, neuroscientist Jeff Iliff reveals the findings of his latest research. He says that our brain’s waste clearance happens when we sleep.

    At the end of talk, he leaves us with a powerful reminder; he says:

    In your house, if you stop cleaning your kitchen for a month, your home will become completely unlivable very quickly. But in the brain, the consequences of falling behind may be much greater than the embarrassment of dirty countertops, because when it comes to cleaning the brain, it is the very health and function of the mind and the body that’s at stake, which is why understanding these very basic housekeeping functions of the brain today may be critical for preventing and treating diseases of the mind tomorrow.

    You can watch the 11-minute talk here:

    Tool #5: Declutter Your Space

    Clarity comes through focus. And focus doesn’t emanate from a place of chaos.

    If your environment is cluttered, your brain’s ability to focus and process information is highly restricted.

    Researchers from the Princeton University found that a cluttered environment competes for your attention and leads to wearing out your mental resources. So, you’re not only distracted in a cluttered environment, you may also feel more agitated.

    Consequently, if you want to increase your focus and boost your brain’s ability to process more information, then you need to first start decluttering your space.

    For more information about this topic, I highly recommend the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

    Tool #6: Remember to Pray/Meditate

    Every commandment and prohibition from Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (PBUH) is a mercy to humankind. Following the principles that have been outlined for us is not only beneficial for us in the Aakhira (afterlife), but they’re also highly beneficial for us in this world.

    We know that salah (prayers) is the key to our Ultimate Success, i.e. Jannah (paradise)! But salah can also be an equally powerful tool for success in this world, if and only when we perform our prayers with khushu (humility)!

    Keep in mind, salah is a form of meditation. And recent scientific researches unequivocally suggest that meditation helps us to achieve many spiritual and medical benefits, including optimising brain health.

    Meditation helps us:

    Besides prayers, here are other forms of meditation mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah:

    • make adkhar (words of remembrance) in a quiet space, and
    • take the time to sit and ponder over Allah’s creation.

    Tool #7: Embrace Optimism

    We know from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) that no matter how difficult things were, he was always an optimist. Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah liked optimism and detested pessimism. (Musnad Ahmad).

    So, optimism is a beautiful Sunnah! In fact, we have been frequently reminded to be an optimist and assume the best about Allah:

    ‘None of [us] should die except while assuming the best about Allah’ (Sahih Muslim).

    In a recent study, scientists have shown that optimism – especially positive emotions – can improve our health positively.

    For example, Dr Amen, a brain expert, talks about Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT) in his groundbreaking book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Health”. He says those ANTs are great at robbing our joy and happiness.

    He says, “every time you have a mad thought, an unkind thought, a sad though, or a cranky thought, your brain releases negative chemicals that activate your limbic system and make your mind and body feel bad.”

    On the other hand, a good thought can release chemicals that make your body feel good. So, kill your negative thoughts and be an optimist like the Prophet (PBUH)!

    Tool #8: Learn New Things

    Have you heard the saying, “be useful to be youthful”? This applies to your brain too. If you want your brain to be young and dynamic, make sure to use it to learn new things.

    That’s because new scientific discoveries in neurogenesis and neuroplasticity indicate that we can grow our brain cells until the day we die. Yes, you heard that right! As long as we continue to learn, our brain never stops growing.

    I know some Islamic scholars who are in their late 80s but still write new books and issue fatawas. They continue to sharpen their intellect and memory by constantly learning new things.

    Here’s how you can be a lifelong learner:

    • Spend at least 15 minutes a day learning something new.
    • Break your routine. For example, are you a right-hander? Try using your left hand the next time you brush your teeth.
    • Memorise the Quran, even if it’s a few verses a day.

    Tool #9: Your Circle of Influence

    You are whom you spend time with. That’s why Prophet (PBUH) advised us about the type of company we keep.

    In an authentic Hadith, he (PBUH) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look to whom you befriend.” (Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi)

    Good companionship provides you with benefits in this world and in the Hereafter. Likewise, bad companionship derails your success in both worlds and will make you miserable. After all, misery loves company!

    That’s because your friends’ healthy or unhealthy habits can be contagious. In an interesting research, scientists found that a person’s chance of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who was obese. If that friend is a close friend, then that figure shot up to 171%.

    If you aren’t surrounded by good companionship, consider replacing your circle of influence with people of goodness.

    Tool #10: Protect Your Head

    Our brain, which has a consistency of a soft butter, is housed in a hard skull. This hard skull protects us from the outside. But inside the skull, there are many sharp ridges that point towards the brain. So, if there’s an accident, even if you don’t break your skull, you’ll most probably experience internal brain damage.

    This is evident in the large-scale study of professional NFL players’ brain injury and brain rehabilitation. The study, conducted by Dr Amen, shows that although all of the players were wearing helmets while playing, almost all of the players had experience different degrees of brain damage.

    The football “headers” aren’t spared from this too. Latest research from scientists in the UK suggests that football headers could lead to brain damage.

    So, why am I talking about this? Whether or not you play sports or ride a bike, make sure you to protect your head.

    Your Brain’s Health

    Your brain’s valuable and the way you take care of it should show this. Whether you fuel your brain through proper nutrition or by learning new things and working out, remember that it can do a lot more that you think it can!