• Mindful Meditation 101: A Muslim’s Guide to Mindful Meditation (Part 2)

    In Part 1, we discussed what mindful meditation is and how it can assist in improving the quality of our salah. In this highly researched article, we’ll explore what latest science has to say about meditation and how we can utilise it to optimise our life.

    What science says about meditation?

    In his outstanding book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Dr Jonathan Haidt, one of the leading scientists studying about well-being, consolidate all the scientific studies about meditation in a few words:

    “Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?

    The pill exists. It’s called meditation.

    The “side effects” of meditation are unbelievably long. 1000s of scientific studies do verify the efficacy of meditation and its benefits. I wouldn’t be able to summarise all of them in this small article. However, my goal is to mention some of the most important benefits based on rigorous scientific studies.

    The list of benefits you find below is extracted from 100s of scientific studies I’ve read from research papers and books, such as The Happiness Track by Dr Emma Säppla, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson and many other books I’ve referred below.

    • Mindful meditation improves our immune system. If we want to become healthy, we need to strengthen our immune system. A mere 8-week clinical training programme in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable positive effects on the immune system.

    • Mindful meditation decreases pain. The decrease is evident just after four sessions of 20 minutes of meditation! Flabbergasting, huh? The researchers say “we found that the increased capacity to reliably focus on the breath in a non-evaluative manner following brief training can effectively reduce the subjective experience of pain.” 

      The role of meditation is that it helps you change the experience you’ve with the pain, but not the pain itself.

      Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, once said, “It’s not the things that happen to us that are upsetting but the view we take of those things.” This truth applies to the physical and psychological pain that happens to us as well.

    • Mindful meditation reduces inflammation in our body. Acute inflammation is necessary for a healthy life. However, uncontrolled acute inflammation or chronic inflammation is a curse for our health. It’s one of the main reasons for many modern diseases. So one of the essential health markers is reduced inflammation in our body.

    • Mindful meditation increases our focus, attention and even memory! What is fascinating is the effects of meditation on multitasking performance. Multitasking is bad for us, and it increases our stress level; however, it’s quite inevitable if you are working in an open office environment with many distractions.

      In an exciting research, human resource (HR) personnel were given eight weeks of training in either mindfulness meditation or body relaxation techniques. The participants were given a stressful multitasking test both before and after training. (A third group, a control group, received no intervention during the 8-week but was tested both before and after this period.)

      At the end of the eight weeks, overall task time and errors did not differ significantly among the three groups. The result confirms that multitasking isn’t helping us work faster. However, the meditation group could mitigate some of the negativity of multitasking.

      The researchers concluded:  “The meditation group reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed; they also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer.” 
    • Mindful meditation boosts our happiness. Research[1][2] shows that merely an 8-week training programme in mindfulness meditation increases happiness by increasing our positive emotion and decreasing depression, anxiety and stress!

      Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the world’s leading scientists studying well-being, also mentions in her ground-breaking book The How of Happiness about a series of studies conducted at the University of Rochester.

      “These studies focused on people ‘high in mindfulness’, that is, those who are prone to be mindfully attentive to the here and now and keenly aware of their surroundings. It turns out that such individuals are models of flourishing mental health. Relative to the average person, they are more likely to be happy, optimistic, self-confident and satisfied with their lives, and less likely to be depressed, angry, anxious, hostile, self-conscious, impulsive or neurotic.

      Furthermore, people who are habitually mindful of their current experiences are more likely to experience frequent and intense positive emotions, to feel self-sufficient, competent and to have positive social relationships, while those who are not usually mindful report more illness and physical symptoms.”
    • Mindful meditation increases our self-control by improving our ability to regulate our emotions. Increasing our self-control, aka willpower, is not a trivial thing. Hundreds of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.

      Dr Kelly McGonigal also confirms in her book The Willpower Instinct that a type of breathing meditation helps to improve our willpower instantly:

      “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.

    • Mindful meditation reduces stress. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “70% of all illness, both physical and mental, is linked to stress.”

    • Mindful meditation helps us to fall asleep faster. Arianna Huffington in her Sleep Revolution tells us: “A 2009 Stanford study found that a six-week mindfulness meditation course helped people who have trouble sleeping fall asleep twice as quickly, in fifteen minutes instead of thirty-three minutes.

    • Mindfulness meditation helps us to control our mind. Achieving control over our mind is perhaps the most significant benefit of meditation. In Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, authors Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson mention how meditation helps us to control our mind:

      As these stressful thoughts were presented, the patients used either of two different attentional stances: mindful awareness of their breath or distraction by doing mental arithmetic. Only mindfulness of their breath both lowered activity in the amygdala— mainly via a faster recovery— and strengthened it in the brain’s attentional networks, while the patients reported less stress reactivity.

    How meditation helps to calm the mind 

    Want tranquillity in your life? Who doesn’t, right? The tranquillity of your life depends on the tranquillity of your mind. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation is one of the fastest ways to achieve that tranquillity.

    If you wonder, how just focusing on your breath brings so many health benefits, then I want you to understand the underlying changes that happen in your brain and autonomic nervous system.

    Meditation lowers our brain-frequency:

    There are five major categories of brain waves, and each activates different centres in the brain. While all five brain-frequencies have different roles to play, it’s the lower brain-frequency that helps us to calm down. Studies show that meditation enables us to move instantly from higher frequency brain waves to lower frequency brain waves.

    The slower the wavelengths of our brain, the more time we get to choose our thoughts, which enables us to be more aware of our current thoughts. This mental status equips us to respond appropriately when we are challenged with a negative stimulus such as our boss’ negative remark, our child’s whining or our co-worker’s inappropriate comment. Moreover, this status also reduces our knee jerk responses that we regret afterwards.

    So when our brain waves are at a lower frequency, we are calmer and can choose the right thoughts, for the right reason at the right time.

    That’s a big win-win for all of us!

    Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system:

    The autonomic nervous system controls our response to stress. Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are the two main branches of the autonomic nervous system.

    The parasympathetic nervous system takes care of our “rest and digest” system. It’s the soothing, relaxing and restoring part of the nervous system.

    The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” system. Whenever our body needs to respond to a threat or danger, this system gets activated by releasing adrenaline, speeding up the heart, increasing the respiratory rate, raising the blood pressure, and redistributing blood flow to the muscles of the arms and legs so that we can “fight” the threat or “flee” from the danger as fast as we can.

    Understandably, we need both these systems. However, our modern life has thrown us into a near-constant arousal state with our sympathetic nervous system working overtime, which leads to all the stress and dysfunction and burnout we don’t want.

    Perform this “mini-meditation” to activate your parasympathetic nervous system instantly. By focusing on your breath for a few moments, you can get some of the long term benefits of meditation right when you need them.

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

    Try this out, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can switch your nervous system to parasympathetic nervous system.

    Appreciate your salah

    The more I learn about meditation, the more I appreciate salah (prayer)!

    As I alluded in part one, salah is undoubtedly the supreme form of meditation. Its spiritual and health benefits are way more than we can ever comprehend. Salah’s benefits we enjoy in this world is a fraction of what awaits us in the next world.

    I’ve elaborated some of the scientific benefits of mindful meditation because I want you to understand and appreciate how salah’s benefits are extending to our health and well-being too. Knowing all these mind-boggling positive impact salah has on our lives, both in this world and in the aakhira, is another reason to prolong our sujood little longer.

    Now, you may wonder why to practice mindful meditation when we know our salah is already a form of meditation, if not the best form. Here are two reasons:

    1. We should perform salah solely for its spiritual benefits: While performing salah, our soul goal should be to please Allah and to enjoy the communication with Him. We don’t pray to train our body or mind. Of course, it’s an added benefit of salah, but that’s not the reason why we pray. So when I stand for salah, I want to do it solely for the spiritual benefits of salah, not for any other purposes.

    2. Mindful meditation is an exercise for our mind, but the purpose of salah isn’t to exercise our mind but to exercise our spirituality. Just like we work out our body for well-being, we should also regularly train our brain for the betterment of our mind.

    What’s the best way to become better at anything? Practice. Practice. Practice.

    Think meditation as a practice to improve your salah and everything else in your life.

    Define your why

    If your why is strong, your way is easy – Unknown

    If you want to make meditation a part of your life, you need to define why you want to meditate daily. Otherwise, the chances are very high that you’ll quit soon.  

    Why do you want to develop a meditation practice?

    Here is a quick look at my “why”: I want to live this life to its fullest in order to achieve the greatest success in the aakhira. Living my life to its fullest requires mindfulness in every act I do. Meditation can bi’idnillah help me to improve that mindfulness.

    How often and how long to meditate

    To achieve the benefits I’ve discussed so far, you need to do a minimum of 10 minutes of meditation every day. Consistency is more important than quantity. So try doing it every day. Once you’ve established the consistency, you can slowly increase to 20 minutes.


    [2] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-14857-004

  • Mindful Meditation 101: A Muslim’s Guide to Mindful Meditation

    We have messed up priorities. We spend less time pursuing the things that matter most to us and more time pursuing the things that matter least to our success in this world or the Hereafter. Throughout the day, we function in a never-ending distracted mode. However, if we want to thrive in the 21st century and achieve success in this and the next world, the ability to focus on the things that matter most to us is the most crucial skill to cultivate. This article describes how to develop that focus through mindful meditation.

    The minute I utter the word “meditation”, people look at me baffled. I can’t read other’s mind, but their facial expression says it all, “isn’t meditation an un-islamic thing?”

    I understand the confusion. Most people imagine this when I talk about meditation:

    A Buddhist monk meditating...

    However, meditation is much more than this. In this article, you’ll find what meditation truly is and how you can utilise its superpowers to achieve focus, calm and relaxation.

    What’s meditation?

    Meditation is a broad term that carries different meanings in different contexts. In the context of becoming a mindful Muslim, meditation is a simple mental exercise. It’s a workout for your brain. You train your brain by regulating your attention in a specific way. 

    Dan Harris, in his entertaining book 10% Happier, mentions this most succinctly.

    “It (meditation) really involves three extremely simple steps.

    1. One: Sit with your eyes closed and your back straight. 
    2. Two: Notice what it feels like when your breath comes in and when your breath goes out, try to bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.
    3. Third step is the biggie. Every time you try to do this, your mind is going to go crazy. You are going to start thinking about all sorts of stupid things like if you need a haircut, why you said that dumb thing to your boss, what’s for lunch, etc. Every time you notice that your mind is wandering, bring your attention back to your breath and begin again. This is going to happen over and over and over again, and that is meditation.”

    Wait? Is that all? Yep, if you are beginner, that’s what meditation is all about. It’s simple.

    Let me explain each of these steps in a bit more detail.

    Step 1: Sit with your eyes closed and your back straight

    Sit comfortably, but with dignity. If you slump, for instance, it’s not dignity. When you sit in a dignified manner, you’ll automatically straighten your back.

    Here is a simple way, how you can sit dignified and straighten your back: Imagine a thread that runs from the very top of your head down through your spine to the base of your tailbone.

    Now gently pull that imaginative thread up. Relax your shoulders. Lengthen your spine. Chest up. Chin (and shoulders) down. Breathe in through your nose, down into your belly and exhale through your nose.

    You may sit on the floor cross-legged or sit on a chair. If you choose to sit on a chair, keep your hands on the thigh and let the feet touch the ground.

    For a beginner, it’s recommended to close the eyes.

    Step 2: Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out

    This step is simple but not necessarily easy.

    Feel the sensation of your breath coming in and going out. Don’t attempt to control your breath; just observe how your breath comes in and goes out.

    Step 3: Your mind will frequently wander, bring back your attention to breath repeatedly

    While you try to focus your attention on the breath, your mind will wander a million time, and that’s not a “failure”. The more you fail to focus and bring back your attention to breath, the better you succeed! Just as you lift weights to get stronger or run to build your aerobic capacity, your repeated attempts to bring your focus on breath strengths your prefrontal cortex and helps you achieve focus.

    The whole game is about bringing your attention back to your breath again and again and again. So, whenever you lose focus on your breath and your mind starts to wander, bring back your attention gently to your breath.

    Imagine your breath like an anchor for your mind. Just as a ship is kept in a place using a heavy anchor, your wandering mind can be kept in one place using your breath.

    The cornerstone of meditation is, in fact, about improving your concentration. Your concentration is developed and deepened by continually bringing your attention back to the breath every time your mind wanders.

    When you catch yourself being distracted or notice your mind has wandered, don’t spend any energy or thoughts as for why it had wandered. Instead, be happy that you’ve recovered your mindfulness and bring back your attention back to the breath.

    The more you practice bringing the attention to your breath, the better you become at staying on the breath or becoming more aware of your earliest impulse to become distracted.

    As Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “meditation is the process by which we go about deepening our attention and awareness, refining them, and putting them to greater practical use in our lives”. So that is what meditation is all about.

    Meditation is not about…

    It’s also important to remind you, what meditation is not about.

    • It is certainly NOT about emptying your mind, suppressing your thoughts or sitting in a particular position.
    • It is also not about chanting in a language you don’t understand
    • Also, most importantly, it’s not a religious act that belongs to a particular religion.

    Rather, meditation is a simple mental exercise that can improve your concentration, your focus and your health.

    Types of meditation 

    Though there are many different types of meditation, the core of meditation is the same. It’s all about bringing your attention to a specific thing. 

    These are the four most popular types of meditation:

    1. Transcendental meditation
    2. Loving-kindness meditation
    3. Yoga Meditation
    4. Mindfulness meditation

    The only meditation I learn, practice and teach is mindful meditation. That’s because;

    1. it’s easy,
    2. it’s the most used meditation in scientific studies. Thus it has tons of scientific evidence to back its efficacy,
    3. and it’s free from any religious connotations.

    What does Islam say about mindful meditation?

    In the most basic sense, mindfulness means to be conscious and aware of your current action.

    Islamically, bringing mindfulness to your action is extremely important. Most of the i’badah (worship) we perform daily require this mindfulness.

    For instance, while you perform your five daily salah (prayer), the goal is to be mindful of what you recite, ponder over its meanings and to glorify Allah subuhanawuta’la. The reward of your prayer is directly correlated to the percentage of mindfulness you have observed in the prayer.

    ‘Ammar ibn Yasir reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW), said, Verily, a man may return from his prayer, and nothing good is written for him but a tenth of his prayer, or a ninth, or an eighth, or a seventh, or a sixth, or a fifth, or a fourth, or a third, or a half.”

    (Sunan Abī Dāwūd, sahih(authentic) according to Al-Albani)

    In other words, the more you are present in the prayer and mindful of what you recite and perform, the more rewards you get.

    Likewise, all other forms of Islamic worship involve mindfulness too. Even your du’a is not accepted if you are not mindful of what you are beseeching Allah subuhanawuta’la.

    Abu Hurairah narrated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “Invoke Allah while you are certain to be answered and know that Allah does not answer a du’a from a heart which is inattentive and unmindful” (Tirmidhi, graded hasan by Albani).

    Also, if you want to achieve ihsan (the pinnacle of Islam), it’s impossible to do it without becoming mindful of your deeds.

    Mindfulness in your prayer, in your communication with others and your daily activities, are crucial for your success in both worlds, yet most people are confused about how to achieve it.

    That’s where meditation can help. It can help you achieve more control over your ever-wandering mind because meditation, in its essence, is about bringing mindfulness to your actions.

    The practice of exercising mindfulness is called muraqabah in Islamic literature. Muraqabah is also about inspecting and introspecting our actions, for which mindfulness is essential. In an excellent article (I highly recommend it, if you are interested in becoming a more mindful person) brother Justin Parrott gives a beautiful example, how meditation can help us to improve our i’badah!

    He says, “Mindfulness exercise is not about supplanting our regular primary acts of worship either. Among other benefits, it functions as a type of preparation for the main acts of worship, similar to how some Muslims prepare for Ramadan by eating less on non-fasting days. Think of mindfulness exercise like basketball practice and ritual prayer (salah) like the basketball game; we strengthen our muraqabah through exercise and practice so that when we put muraqabah into action, in salah, we are in top mental and spiritual shape. The salah is the performance, the mindfulness exercise is the rehearsal.

    I can testify that my focus in salah has improved a lot after I started being consistent with meditation. The improvement of the quality of my salah led me to enjoy my salah and my i’badah more. That’s when I truly understood the hadith, “The coolness of my eyes was made in the prayer” (Al-Tabaraniin al-Mu’jam al Kabir)

    Prophet Muhammed (SAW) also called salah as a source of tranquillity. He used to say “O Bilal, give us rest with it (by calling the adhan to start the salah). (Abu Dawud).

    The latest science does confirm this ultimate truth that salah is a source of tranquillity and relaxation.

    Salah – the source of tranquillity

    Muslim scientist from the University of Malaya, Malaysia came together and wanted to find out whether salah provides similar health benefits as other meditations.

    In this interesting study, scientist found a remarkable increase in α (alpha) wave activity during salah. Here is the result of the research in their own words: “A notable increase in α wave activity was observed at the occipital and parietal regions of both brain hemispheres. The production of α waves is normally promoted by the parasympathetic nervous system with suppression of the sympathetic system.

    These findings strongly suggest that the high levels of α activity during salah are associated with increased relaxation, reduced tension, sustained focus, and a balanced condition of the human mind and body.”

    It’s important to note that we don’t perform our salah to meditate or to achieve any health benefits. Instead, our primary goal of salah is to come closer to Allah subuhanawuta’la by speaking to Him and enjoying His company. However, in pursuit of that goal, we do achieve countless other physical, mental and spiritual benefits that make our life more fulfilling and tranquil.

    That’s the beauty of salah. Its unidentified benefits for our life is more than the identified benefits. It’s like a quadrillion dollar hidden treasure that is waiting for us to explore.

    One of those known benefits is that salah itself is a type of meditation. So striving to achieve mindfulness and focus in our salah will have a greater ripple in all areas of our life. Mindfulness meditation is one of the ways to “practice” to achieve that more significant success in our salah!

    What’s next?

    There is so much to talk about the benefits of meditation. That’s why we’ll explore the scientific benefits of meditation in part 2 of this article.

    We’ll also talk about how to start a sustainable meditation practice in a few easy steps.

    Until then, I want you to take 5 seconds before every salah to thank Allah for granting you the opportunity to pray. Indeed, salah is the greatest gift you’ve received from your Creator.

  • How Social And Digital News Media Ruin Your Life (Part 2)

    Is the technology you are using extending your mind and expanding your abilities? Or is it breaking up your mind and being an obstacle to achieving the best version of you? In other words, are you the master of your devices, or its slave? In part one of this article, I convinced you how social and news media could ruin your life. The goal of this article is to help you regain your life by minimising the exposure to these two forms of media.

    Just like the internet, social media is a double-edged sword. If you don’t manage it carefully, you’ll end up cutting yourself easily. The unfortunate reality of social media is that it has more harm than good. It has already destroyed millions of peoples’ minds and lives. Moreover, it is, undoubtedly, an obstacle for most people to achieving taqwa (God-consciousness) and to becoming the best version of themselves.

    As I mentioned in my previous article, the overuse of these two forms of media hampers our success in both worlds.

    The distractor of your life

    For the last two years, I’ve been reading and researching a lot about peak performance. The summary of what I’ve learned is this: Peak performance is only attainable if you genuinely guard your focus on the most important goal. 

    However, most people are distracted by insignificant things that drain their focus and energy. For instance, every notification you receive on your smartphone takes away your focus. All those “just checking your smartphone” acts drain your mental energy and focus. The truth is, your smartphone is making you hard to focus on important goals and values in your life.

    A recent survey confirms that a large percentage of people use their smartphones for news, music, watching films and engaging in social media. All these activities do a great job of distracting you from achieving your true potential.

    Your smartphone is the elephant in the room. There aren’t any simple, quick solutions to solving this severe matter. Hence, I like to provide you with a holistic solution that is also sustainable.

    Imagine an onion that has three sets of layers. These layers represent a three-step solution to this burning problem:

    1. The innermost layer of this imaginative onion represents the goals and roles in your life
    2. The middle layer represents your energy
    3. The outermost layer represents your willingness to play offensive with your willpower

    If you are looking for a sustainable solution, then you need to work from the innermost layer. Attempts to change your behaviour just based on the outermost layer will not provide you with a lasting change.

    The innermost layer: goals and roles in your life

    Allah subuhanawuta’la reassurances us in the Quran that there is a purpose behind our creation. He (SWT) says,

    Then did you think that We created you uselessly and that to Us you would not be returned? (Muminoon, 115)

    Hence, Muslim scholars mention three primary purposes for our creation:

    1. Ibadah (worship) – And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me (Az-Zaariyat: 56)
    2. Khilafah (successive authority) – Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority (Baqrah:30)
    3. ‘imara (to develop this earth) – He brought you forth from the earth and hath made you develop it (Hood: 61)

    When these are our purpose of existence, how can we live a life that is void of goals? That is, how can we fulfil these privileged roles that we’ve been given without having meaningful goals?

    Goals give you meaning, a sense of purpose, a feeling of control, and an optimistic outlook on life. They get you fired up and out of bed in the morning. When you lack goals, you’re bored and don’t know what to do or how to spend your time meaningfully.

    However, the reality is, most people don’t have any particular meaningful goals to work on. They are heedless about the real purpose of this life. So, they are joyfully wasting their time on things that don’t provide them with any meaning to their life. 

    People who are serious about their roles and goals in this world would certainly not spend their precious time on things that don’t truly benefit them. On the contrary, they spend all their time and energy, attempting to achieve success in both worlds.

    I can provide reams of research to show why quitting social, and news media is perhaps the best thing for you, but that wouldn’t make any difference to you if you aren’t engaged in a meaningful goal or if you aren’t working on a project that is larger than your life.

    On the other hand, spending your time on these two media while working on your goals is like filling a leaky bucket with water. Not only you are wasting precious resources, but also you are missing the opportunity to fill the bucket.

    A Muslim is someone who has projects and goals to work on to continually improve him or herself. That, in return, helps him achieve real success in this dunya and the akhirah.

    That’s not all. It’ll also make you a happy person. In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the world’s leading scientist studying wellbeing, says that happy people have projects and goals:

    “In 1932, weighed down by the sorrows and agonies of his self-absorbed and aimless clients, an Australian psychiatrist named W. Béran Wolfe summed up his philosophy like this: ‘If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.’ He was right. People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.”

    So, if you want to be truly successful and happy, you better work on your goals. Social and news media are for losers! Or to put it more mildly, it’s for people who don’t have goals yet.

    The middle layer: Maintaining energy

    Most goal-setting gurus talk extensively about the intricate details of goal setting and the execution of it. That’s important, but there is one more critical thing most people fail to mention. It’s about the importance of maintaining one’s energy to achieve those goals.

    When was the last time you completed a task efficiently and productively? Was it when you were tired or when you had a great sleep and felt fully energised?

    Based on what I’ve studied so far, I can pretty convincingly say that 90 per cent of our psychology depends on our physiology. Your body’s wellbeing is directly correlated with your mind’s wellbeing.

    So, if you want to achieve goals, make sure your mind is healthy. Keeping your body energised is the easiest and fastest way to keep your mind healthy.

    The question is, how to energise your body so that you can have a healthy mind and a healthy body?

    That’s what I teach people in my Coaching Programme. Maintaining your physical energy depends primarily on three things: sleep, eat and move.

    However, that’s not all. You have a soul that needs to be energised as well. Salah (prayer), breathing meditation and many other relaxation techniques help you maintaining your energy.

    If you’re a beginner, I would strongly recommend starting to work on your sleep cycle. Sleep is the fountain of energy. If you sleep well, at least 7 hours a day and ideally 8 hours a day, you’ll automatically feel the increased energy in your body.

    After sleep comes nutrition. You are what you eat. Therefore, your food choices play a huge role in keeping you energised. Here are three simple rules to follow:

    1. Hydrate: drink at least 2 litres of water daily. 
    2. Eat food that is closed to its original form (e.g. an apple), and
    3. Avoid foods that are far away from its original form and are highly processed (e.g. an apple pie)

    Last, but not least is your movement. The simple rule of thumb is move as much as you can. Don’t sit or stand for too long. Ideally, you move at least every 30 minutes for a minute or two. If that is not possible, make sure to move at least two minutes every hour.

    The outer layer: Play offensive with your willpower

    Most people play defensive with their willpower. They think they can stop things like reading Facebook feeds when they want, or from eating the big chocolate cake in front of them anytime, they feel like.

    However, if the history is your guide, you know what a lousy defensive player your willpower is.

    Willpower is a finite thing. If you start to use it defensively, you are going to hit the ceiling after a specific time. That’s why it’s essential to play with it offensively.

    Part of playing offensively with your willpower is to create a temptation-free environment. (Just as a side note: Most sharia laws are in this category, such as lowering your gaze, wearing hijab)

    You might be wondering how do I create a temptation-free environment?

    That’s what the rest of the article is all about. These recommendations are tested and tried, and most importantly, there are tons of research to back them up so that they work for you, not against you.

    #1: Unplug from your devices regularly

    What is out of sight is out of mind. One of the reasons why we use our devices so often is that we always keep them visible and nearby. So, simply keeping it out of sight and out of touch, makes it less attractive. If you want to become the master of your device and not its slave, then this step is essential.

    Here is a compelling reason why you should become the master, not the slave of your device.

    The American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America survey found “a startling 86% of adults report being constantly or often connected to their electronic devices.”

    To detox, the APA recommends finding regular times to completely unplug and stay away from all devices. Doing so, the organisation says, “will lower stress, maintain better mental health, and help break the chronic compulsive behaviour many of us have to constantly check in with their electronic devices–reaching for digital stimulation to fill every free moment of downtime.”

    Hence, I strongly recommend you to create periods of device-free time. Here are a few of my own strategies I use daily.  

    • I keep my smartphone out of sight and out of touch. Whether at work or home, my device is both out of sight and out of touch. At work, I keep it in a closet, at home it’s on a shelf, out of my sight.
    • I don’t use my phone for the first two hours of waking up. I want to be creative before I become reactive. I do the most important things first before I switch on my phone.
    • Likewise, two hours before I go to sleep, I switch off my phone. That’s my family time. I don’t want to be distracted with anything else.
    • Whenever I do my deep focused work (such as writing this article), my phone is switched off too.

    #2: Delete all the distracting apps on your device

    Delete all the distracting apps from your device. I don’t have any social media apps on my device, except WhatsApp, which I use sparingly (all notifications are switched off, and I check it twice a day at predetermined times).

    If you have to use any of these social media apps, use it on a larger device (see #4 for more details).

    #3: Restrict your screen time

    We are different, and we have different needs. While I can entirely abandon social and news media, you may have a different need. So what I advocate is, if you can’t entirely quit them, at least restrict their use. Don’t use them unnecessarily and haphazardly. Use them for self-growth and not for self-destruction.

    I consider the newest technology, including the internet and smartphone a blessing. I use them every day to learn, teach and coach people online. However, this blessing can become a curse when we don’t use it appropriately.

    Here are a few things you can do to restrict your screen time.

    Install Freedom software

    How often you had the best of intention to check your Facebook feed for only 5 minutes, then ended up spending 2 hours on it?

    As I said, our willpower is a finite thing. It’s not a great companion– it’s mostly elusive when you need it the most. That’s why I’m such a big fan of Freedom software. This software helps you to control your surfing by your predetermined standards.

    You can either block the unwanted sites forever on all your devices or restrict the minutes you want to spend on a particular website. It’s one of the best tools I’ve ever bought to decrease my distraction and to increase my productivity.

    I have a paid version of it, but most people can survive with a free version too. Here’s the link to Freedom.

    Use the Screen Time on your iPhone

    Screentime functionality is somewhat similar to Freedom software. You can combine both if you want to restrict your screen time further.

    Android Users can install the Digital Wellbeing app for the same purpose.

    Breaking the “bottomless surfing” cycle

    You may have heard the term “bottomless” surfing, which refers to the endless newsfeed on Facebook or the autoplay on YouTube.

    I’m sure; you are familiar with one of these scenarios:

    • You go to your Facebook account to post something, but end up reading the newsfeed for the next 30 minutes.
    • Likewise, you want to watch a 5-minute video on YouTube, but end up watching a video on for 2 hours.

    The techno giants such as Facebook and Google wants to keep you hooked to their site and for as long as possible. The longer you’re using their services, the more money they make (e.g., by showing you ads )

    Therefore, bottomless surfing is designed to keep you hooked to their services.

    The following two chrome extensions can be of great benefit to disabling the newsfeed on Facebook and recommended videos on YouTube.

    #4: Surf at predetermined times on a larger screen

    If you must use these media, use them at predetermined times. It would help if you decided when you want to use it and how long you want to use it.

    Software such as Freedom or Screen time/Digital Wellbeing (as discussed before) will be beneficial for you to do these steps.

    If you need to use one of these media, use them on a larger screen, such as on a computer or laptop. Amy Cuddy, a psychologist, mentions fascinating research in her book Presence, how this is advantageous to you.

    Scientists brought three different groups into a lab. All three groups received the same assignment but on three different devices. One group was asked to do it on a large desktop computer, the second one on a tablet-sized device and the third group on a smartphone.

    And the result? Amy says: “We concluded that the smaller the device, the more we must contract our bodies to use it, and the more time we spend in these shrunken, inward postures, the more powerless we feel.”

    Ultimately, this contraction and feeling of powerlessness undermine our productivity and efficiency.

    Books and Resources

    This article gives you some food for thoughts and should help to kick-start your journey towards a productive life.

    If you want to dig deep and truly understand the intricate details of what social media and our hyper-connected devices do to us, I highly recommend you to check these books. They certainly helped me a lot to win at my work and my life, Alhamdulillah!


    If you are iPhone user, this guide will be immensely beneficial to you. It details how to configure your iPhone to work for you, not against you.

    It’s a long read, but worth it. 

    Invest your one and only life wisely

    I’ve spent much time writing this article. That’s because I care about you and your life. You are more capable than you think you are. Hence, I invite you to come out of your comfort zone and live up to your fullest potential. Your one and only life is the single capital you possess to succeed in the aakhira (Hereafter), so invest it wisely in this world.

    My job as a coach is to help you establish the fundamentals you need to live up to your fullest potential. Working on your fundamentals help you to transform your body so that you can transform your life.

    Are you ready to join the transformation?

    Join the presale list and save up to 42% off the regular cost.

    Presale List

  • 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.


    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?