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  • How Social And Digital News Media Ruin Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

    What these media do to your brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So how do we break from this vicious cycle?

    Here is my suggestion:

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

    The Digital Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here are my four significant reasons:

    1. Wasting Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    3. Hard to focus on the essential things

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

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

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

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

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

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

    4. Your solitude is lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Join the Club

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

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

    Until then, wish you pleasant digital fasting 🙂

  • 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 to Commit Yourself to a Lifelong Commitment

    Whether you want to get into the best shape of your life, be the greatest spouse, raise amazing kids or even just achieve financial freedom, you need to commit to making it happen. So success in any field requires you to commit yourselves to a set of commitments. In this article, I’ll reveal the science of commitments and give you simple strategies to succeed in every area of your life.

    You’ll most probably agree with me when I say that without consistent commitments, you won’t achieve anything meaningful in your life.

    The successful person in any field stands out because he/she is committed to what they do.

    Now as a Muslim, you know the importance of commitment more than anyone else. The Ultimate Success, i.e., Jannathul Firdous, is only attainable if you’re committed to becoming a good, God-conscious Muslim who stays away from prohibited things and constantly strives to do good deeds.

    So, your true success in both worlds very much depends on the consistent commitments you make daily. It’s not something that you choose to do on a yearly or monthly basis; rather it’s something that you commit to do on a daily basis!

    In a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah (ra), the Prophet (PBUH) says, “Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little” (Sunan ibn Majah).

    Well, if you’re wondering what the ingredients of consistent commitment are, here they are!

    The Commitment Equation

    Here’s the equation for real success: (Desire + Action) x Consistency = Commitment

    Ok, let me explain this with a simple example: as a reader of my blog, you are most probably looking for ways to improve your health and increase your energy. You might also be looking to achieve the best shape of your life.

    Let’s say that you’re ready to commit yourself to achieving the best shape of your life so that you can be the best in what you do with increased confidence.

    You have the desire to achieve that lean & healthy body that you’ve always wanted. Now, needless to say, just with this desire, you’ll never achieve the body you want. You also need to put the right efforts to make it happen. And you need to work on it on a consistent basis.

    So, commitment means, you are willing to put the work consistently to achieve the desired outcome.

    Ok, let’s jump into the details of each component!

    Desire: Do You REALLY Want It?

    Now, before you commit yourself to anything, the question you should ask yourself is this: “Do I REALLY want it? Do I have a burning desire to achieve this outcome?”

    Here’s the thing, if you want your commitment to be strong, you need a strong desire too. Your level of desire matches your level of commitment.

    Here are two steps you can take to increase your desire to commit:

    1. Find the true purpose of your commitment. Going back to the previous example, what is the purpose of getting into the best shape of your life? In a previous article, I explained how you could find out your true purpose using a 5-why system. Please read part 1 and part 2 of this system to understand it well.
    2. Ask yourself the following question: What’s the immediate gratification that I get when I commit to ……. (fill in the blanks)?
      For instance, I’m very committed to working out every day. Coupled with my strong purpose and the immediate gratification of “feeling good” and “more energy” drives me to exercise regardless of where I am!

    Now, you can apply this to any area of your life. Let’s talk about raising kids. My real purpose of raising obedient, God-fearing kids is to make them role models for others. So, my kids become an ideal investment for my Aakhira.

    All that sounds good, but what’s the immediate gratification I get by raising obedient, God-fearing kids? I have a peaceful, serene home! And that’s priceless for any parent!

    Here’s a little comparison for you to understand this more deeply. True purpose can be compared to a “long-term” goal. The immediate gratification is a tiny reward you get to pursue your “long-term” goal. It’s the fuel you need to drive to reach your real purpose.

    Great, now that you’ve set a “burning desire”, let’s move on to the action part; that’s where the magic happens!

    Action: One Bite at a Time

    How do you eat an elephant? (ok, I get it… it’s haram to eat elephants. But what about a huge whale? Have you got any appetite for that? :-))

    You probably know the answer. One bite at a time. While this wisdom is prevalent, we are stuck when it comes to implementation.

    We have grandiose goals, and they stay grandiose forever because we are too afraid to take the first “bite”!

    So, at first, any goal or commitment might look huge and most probably impossible to achieve. But, if you were to break down these goals or commitments into smaller, doable chunks, it becomes much easier to achieve them. (Here’s a secret: This is how I coach my clients to achieve astounding results through my six months Online Coaching Programme)

    Let me give you an example: in the 1950s, Roger Bannister had an “impossible” goal. He wanted to run a mile under 4 minutes. This may sound simple now, but until 1954, no one in the history of humankind ever achieved it. Every smart person before 1950 said that it’s ‘humanly impossible’ to run a mile in less than four minutes because many had tried it before, but no one ever even got close to achieving this goal.

    However, Roger Bannister did break through this seemingly impossible task. And how did he do it?

    He broke his goal into small bite-size, doable pieces and honed his practice by committing to do it almost on a daily basis.

    • First, he trained until he could run a quarter mile under a minute.
    • Next, he trained until he could run half a mile in two minutes.
    • Then, he trained until he could run three-quarters of a mile in three minutes.
    • Lastly, he trained until he thought he could run the full mile in less than four minutes.

    So, regardless of how big your goal or the commitment is, you can break it into smaller, doable chunks to overcome the barrier of inaction.

    Let’s say; you want to exercise daily for 30 minutes. If you’ve never exercised before, this may be very daunting. What if you break this goal into small chunks, that you’ve no excuse not to do it? Starting with “2 pushups a day”, “2 minutes of exercise a day” or anything small enough to get started.

    Just Do It

    In the great book, A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley talks about procrastination and shares an interesting study.

    The researchers took students who hated doing math and scanned their brains. The researchers saw that the students’ pain centres would light up as they contemplated having to do math.

    But here’s the deal.

    Those pain centres turned off the moment when the students actually started doing the math.

    It was the anticipation that was painful. And doing the math? Not so much.

    So the “pain” of doing something is much lesser than the pain of waiting (or anticipating). It’s the anticipation of doing something that’s getting you stressed out. So, don’t wait long, just jump in and do it as Nike suggests :-)!

    Consistency: The Foundation of Success

    The last but the most important component of commitment is consistency. I call this step the foundation of success.

    Just having a burning desire and working on that commitment won’t bring any success if you aren’t consistent.

    If all you can do is just 5 minutes of exercise a day, and you do it daily, that’s certainly better than an hour workout once a week.

    The best human being (PBUH), who ever worked on the earth said, “The most beloved of deeds to Allah are those that are most consistent, even if it is small (Al-Bukhari & Muslim)

    So, whether you are committing to do something for the success of this Dunya or the Aakhira, the most important component is consistency!

    Implement the Good Because You Deserve the Best

    Remember the Hadith of the Beloved (PBUH) as you set your goals and work towards them because everything good must become part of your routine in order for it to really “stick” with you forever. And once it sticks…, well then you’re that much closer to your goal!

  • 3 Ways How Transforming Your Body Impacts Your Life Positively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How Improving My Health Was a Game Changer

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

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

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

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

    #1. Increased Energy

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

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

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

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

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

    #2. Increased Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

    #3. Increased Engagement in Personal Development

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

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

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

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

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

    Maximising the Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Your Goals

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

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

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

  • What to Do When You’re Stuck

    You keep repeating the same things over and over again without seeing any results; nothing seems to be changing in regards to your Deen, personal life and health. So, what should you do?

    Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As cliché as this quote has become, it still holds a lot of weight in our lives.

    That’s because we’ve gotten used to a certain way of living our lives; whether it’s neglecting certain aspects of our Deen and expecting to feel spiritually fulfilled, or whether it’s being unaware of why we can’t seem to accomplish our health and fitness goals.

    The Foundation to a Better Version of Yourself

    My new free video series “3 Fundamentals for Achieving the Best Version of You”addresses these and other issues. This series will only be available for a limited time.

    This video series will also help you

    • Understand why the Deen requires you to be aware of your habits
    • Uncover the psychological dimension to habits because habits don’t arise from a vacuum; they’re repeated actions we’ve learned over time
    • Recognise situations or emotions that trigger good or bad habits, and
    • Change your habits so that you can transform your life

    Reclaiming Your Life

    3 Fundamentals” is about taking charge of your health and fitness goals! There’s no reason to suffer from illnesses like diabetes and heart complications when you can prevent or change your outcome through nutrition and exercise. You also no longer need to hide your body and suffer from low self-esteem.

    But “3 Fundamentals” isn’t just about health and fitness. I’ll show you how what you’ll learn applies to every aspect of your life.

    So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start your journey.

  • 7 Things Successful Muslims Do Every Morning!

    We’re often amazed by the incredible amount of work successful people get done. One of the secrets behind their success lies in their morning routines. This article lists the 7 most impactful routines you can incorporate into your life so that you are successful.

    The Quran and the Sunnah provide us with Divine and practical guidance in all areas of our lives. When we purify our intentions, implement this guidance and work hard, we will, inshaAllah, achieve success in this world as well as the Aakhira.

    There is no doubt that the true success comes from Allah subuhanawuta’ala; who else, besides Him, can guide you to success?

    An example of this beautiful guidance is from the following sahih hadith:

    “O Allah, bless my nation in their early mornings.” (Sunan ibn Majah)

    Waking up early means that you are getting a portion of this incredible blessing (barakah)! This is also why in the Quran, we are frequently told to make adkhar in the mornings.

    So, as a part of the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (PBUH), we are encouraged to wake up early and to make use of these hours. 
We also know that following the Sunnah will benefit us in both worlds.

    Morning routines: what researchers are saying

    Recent scientific studies also confirm the benefits in having morning routines. But what, specifically, have researchers found?

    • Some of these studies have shown that morning people exhibit character traits like optimism, being agreeable, satisfaction and diligence. Night owls, while linked with creativity and intelligence, are more likely to exhibit traits like depression, pessimism and anxiety.
    • Research conducted by Texas University found that students who consistently woke up early each day actually earned better test scores and overall grade points in comparison to those who frequently slept in.
    • In another study, researchers found that early risers are proactive. This also means that they’re more eager to achieve something in their lives.

    What you can do to make the most of your mornings

    One of the best ways to improve your health is by spending the first 2-3 hours of your day quietly. Begin your day in a stress-free manner. We all know how much stress people go through when they wake up late to work.

    If you are poised to achieve success in both worlds, here are 7 things you can do within the first 2-3 hours after waking up.

    1. Wake up for Tahajjud

    After the obligatory prayers, Tahajjud is the best prayer to come closer to Allah and, thereby, improve our spiritual health. And the best time to pray Tahajjud is at the last part of the night.

    The blessings of this prayer is pretty self-explanatory from these two hadiths:

    “The closest that a slave comes to his Lord is during the middle of the latter portion of the night. If you can be among those who remember Allah, the Exalted One, at that time, then do so.” (At-Tirmidhi, sahih)

    “Observe the night prayer; it was the practice of the righteous before you, and it brings you closer to your Lord, and it is penance for evil deeds and erases the sins and repels disease from the body.” (At-Tirmidhi1)

    2. Spend some time with the Quran and in the remembrance of Allah

    A phone without a charger is just, well, a dead phone. Likewise, a Muslim/ah needs to connect to Allah through various forms of adkhar, and specifically, by reciting the Quran. In the Quran, we’re told:

    “And glorify the name of your Lord morning and evening” (Al-Quran, 76:26)

    Likewise, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) compared the believer who recites the Quran to a citrus fruit. He said, “The parable of the believer who recites the Qur’an is that of a sweet citrus fruit: its fragrance is nice, and its taste is nice. The parable of the believer who does not recite the Qur’an is that of a date: it has no smell, but its taste is sweet…” (At-Tirmidhi, Sahih)

    3. Pray Fajr with its sunnah (and if possible in the masjid)

    Pray Fajr on time, but also remember to pray the sunnah prayer that comes before it. Here is a hadith about this prayer:

    “Two Rakat for Sunnah of Fajr prayer are better than the Dunyaa and everything that is in it” (Sahih Muslim)

    Just imagine, what about the Fajr prayer then? What about, then, going to Masjid for Fajr prayer?

    4. Workout in the morning

    In a previous blog post, I’ve talked extensively about how working out in the morning is very beneficial to our lives. One of the key takeaways was this: working out in the morning helps you to be focused for the rest of the day.

    5. Take a shower

    As you probably know, Islam stresses a lot about personal hygiene. From numerous hadiths, we have been given explicit commandments about personal hygiene. The most important one is this:

    “Cleanliness is half of our imaan”. (Sahih Muslim)

    And having a shower in the morning helps you to fulfil this commandment, and it also gives you the boost you need to start the day well.

    Morning showers provide a host of benefits, but the greatest of all these benefits is that it helps you increase your levels of alertness throughout the day, provided you blast yourself with cold water (ca. 200 Celsius) in the last 1-2 minutes of your shower.

    6. Eat a healthy breakfast

    Our body needs good care and proper maintenance. And the best way to maintain yourself? By having a healthy meal.

    One of the best ways to jumpstart your day is eating a healthy breakfast that is full of protein, healthy fat, vegetables and some whole-wheat carbs.

    This is one of my favourite breakfasts:

    • ¼ of an Avocado
    • 3 organic eggs
    • Loads of vegetables
    • Some lentils

    7. Plan the day

    I’ve discussed this in my Ramadan Guide, but planning is perhaps one of the most neglected parts of the Sunnah. 9 out of 10 people I come across haven’t planned their day, never mind their week or year.

    Beginning your day with a proper plan that’s already been set helps you to be focused and productive. If you want to achieve more with less efforts, this simple strategy can do the trick!

    Take around 10 minutes at the start of your day and list the most important tasks that need your attention. Allocate some specific time for these tasks and commit them to writing. Here is an example of my daily plan:

    • 08:30 – 09:30: Blog post
    • 09:40 – 10:40: Learning
    • 11:00 – 12:00: Meeting with the technical team
    • 12:00 – 13:30: Lunch

    As you see, every minute is allocated to a specific task. This gives me unprecedented focus, and I’m able to get things done in a shorter time.

    Remember, successful mornings don’t just happen; they require effort.

    Question: From the above list, what is the one single act you can add today to your morning routine?


    1 It seems that this hadith is not authentic (or at least there is a great deal of difference of opinions about it). However, some scholars say that the narration is authentic without the last part (about it being a cure). Nevertheless, the reality of many who have practised Tahajjud regularly proves that if one prays and supplicates to Allah in the latter part of the night with ikhlas(sincerity), it may well serve their health and general well-being.

  • Five Simple Ways to Kill Your Stress

    Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life, duties, and responsibilities, and we all go through stress sometimes in our life so it’s vital to be familiar with stress management tips and techniques.

    Stress management is all about taking charge of your life, thoughts, and emotions. There are few habits that you can develop to overcome stress, and they are:

    1. Manage your time

    Time management is one of the most important skills we need to develop to achieve a productive and a fulfilling life for both the worlds.

    Since all of us have only a restricted amount of time in a day, it’s  better we understand how to manage our day appropriately. Here are some real-life tips for you to implement immediately:

    • Analyse your time and figure where the stress is coming from
    • Have a To-Do list: you need to plan your day so that you know what you are going to accomplish in that particular day. Stick to your To-Do list and perform these tasks first before you attempt to do anything else.
    • Have a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily plans. These plans help you to navigate through your life easier.
    • Prioritise – Do what is important/urgent first in your To-Do list and then deal with the rest.

    The Prophet (PBUH) said, “There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) Health and free time for doing righteous deeds.”  (Saheeh Buhary)

    Time management is indeed a proven way to reduce stress.

    2. Get more sleep

    When you don’t get enough sleep, your body and your mind suffer. This leads to lack of concentration and stress.

    According to national sleep foundation, an average adult needs around 7-9 hours of sleep daily (1)

    Sleep is considered as a sign of Allah’s greatness, and He said in the Quran “And among His Signs is your sleep by night and by day, and your seeking of His Bounty. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who listen”   (A-Quran, 30:23).

    3. Exercise

    Exercise is a very effective stress reduction technique and also a crucial habit to develop for a healthy life. Exercise is not only important for a healthy body, but it’s also important for a healthy mind. So make sure to have a certain amount of exercise daily.

    Studies show that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.

    An article that was published by Harvard school of public health showed that an adult needs an average of 20-25 minutes moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every day.

    This may include:

    • walking fast
    • water aerobics
    • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills etc.

    4. Learn to say “NO”

    Yes, do yourself a favour and learn to say “NO” to all the distracting activities and projects that will affect your planned day/week tremendously. Avoid over commitment and say “YESonly to the important things that you know you can do efficiently.

    5. Take breaks between the activities

    You need to rest and relax between the activities by:

    • Stretching
    • Meditating
    • Drinking cup of tea in the fresh air
    • Taking a short nap etc

    Take a break between your activities, ideally every 45 minutes and by doing that, you can focus more on the next task at hand and do it well.

    Lastly, Allah says in the Quran:

    Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. (Al-Quran, 2:286)

    So do what you can to the best of your ability, make dua and the leave the rest to Allah.

    This is a guest blog post. This article is written by Asma Ismail. Asma is the founder of Sixah academy – a nutritionist, writer, speaker and a health coach. Her mission is to support, encourage and help the Ummah to start living healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. You can follow her on Facebook

     

    References

    1. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need/page/0/1
    2. http://understandquran.com/tick-tock-the-value-of-time.html
    3. https://islamqa.info/en/96589
    4. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need/page/0/1
    5. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety
  • 5 Simple Strategies to Increase Your Productivity Immediately

    Five simple, but super-important, strategies towards a more productive and fulfilling life, insha Allah. These strategies can be implemented immediately by anyone willing to increase productivity in their lives.

    For years, I marvelled at how certain people could be so productive while others only dreamt of such productivity despite all their efforts.

    Along my quest towards super-productivity, I figured out five simple but important strategies to upsurge my productivity. And in this blog post I’d like to show how each of you could increase your productivity by implementing these simple strategies, bi’idnillah.

    What Is Productivity?

    Before I delve into the five strategies, I do want to make clear what productivity means to me, so that you can understand where I am coming from.

    To me productivity means that I can focus on one thing at a time with all my energy and motivation.

    It’s not about how much I get done; it’s about how well I go through my daily life.

    Whether I’m eating, playing with my kids, walking in the woods or working, I like to focus and spend all my energy into the one thing I am doing! Focusing on the present and indulging in what I am doing momentarily, gives me so much happiness, feeling of accomplishment and control over my life. And that’s productivity for me! Alhamdulillah!

    So to me productivity isn’t about the end result of my work, it’s about the quality of my work. As a firm believer in ihsan (excellence) I know that the results come from Allah and He will put barakah (blessings) in my end result, as long as I focus on the quality of my action.

    Two Focus Areas

    Hence I believe, in order to increase one’s productivity, one has to focus on the following two areas:

    1. Your relationship with Allah
    2. Your relationship with your body

    As for improving your relationship with Allah, you’ve 100s and 1000s of, resources on the web as well as other various authentic Islamic books.

    As a nutrition and exercise coach, my focus today is to show you how you can improve your relationship with your body by implementing following five simple strategies.

    5 Simple Strategies

    1. Sleep: Get a regular good night’s sleep, at least 7 hours a day

    I don’t know of any other simple strategy that can boost your vitality and productivity like sleep. Sleep isn’t just about resting and recharging our body to get ready for the next day, rather it helps rebuild our body, improve our memory and increase our learning capabilities. So don’t think you can become productive while cutting down your sleep.

    And learn to have a nap during the day, as it’s one of the important Sunnahs of our beloved Prophet (SAW). Anas (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said: “Take a nap, for the shayateen do not take naps.” (Reported by al-Tabarani, Al-Saheehah, 2647).

    Just a 20 minutes nap after your lunch can rejuvenate you for the rest of the day.

    2. Exercise: Do some physical exercise every day.

    In whatever form, make sure you move, daily, for at least for 20 minutes. Exercise is the single most important thing when it comes to oxygenating every cell of your body. When your cells are happy getting enough oxygen and energy, you feel energized and that helps you to be more productive.

    I would suggest you do strength workouts for three days a week and to focus on cardio for the next three days. Take once a week rest from exercise.

    3. Hydration: Drink plenty of water, strive to get 2 litres a day

    Since our body consists of at least 70 per cent water, water is indispensable for all efficient body functions. For instance, 85% of our brain tissue is water. So if we’re dehydrated, both our body and our mind become stressed.

    Therefore hydration throughout the day is quite significant for a healthy body. Moreover, hydration helps us to eliminate the wastes from our body, while energizing the body to be more productive.

    In order to kick-start your day, I strongly recommend you to start your day with two glasses of warm water. For more benefits, squeeze the juice of one half lime or lemon into the warm water.

    4. Positive attitude: Maintain a positive attitude

    Positive attitude generates positive energy, which in turn helps you to be more productive.

    Negative thoughts tend to drain your energy. Positive thoughts replenish your energy. Though attitude is not something that just happens, you still have the choice to look at your status quo in a positive light.

    The Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is filled with such examples, where he always chose to be positive regardless of his situation. Even in the hardest of situations, such as in the story of Ta’if, he didn’t lose hope in himself or in others.

    He (SAW) was pelted with stones, to the extent that his entire body was bleeding, and even then what was his (SAW) answer when the Angel of Mountains offered to crush the people of Ta’if by bringing together the two mountains?

    “Even if these people do not accept Islam, I do hope from Allah that there will be persons from among their progeny who would worship Allah and serve His cause.”

    This is positive attitude. Verily we have the most beautiful example in our beloved Prophet (SAW).

    5. Eat healthy and high-energy foods.

    As a nutrition and exercise coach, I can assure you that what you eat has a huge impact on your physiology and psychology. To put it bluntly, you are what you eat.

    High achievers in any area are very careful about what they put in their mouth, because they are aware that the choice of their food can make or break their day.

    So in order to increase your healthy and high-energy foods, follow these four simple steps:

    1. Eat at least 5 servings of green and colourful vegetables a day
    2. Eat some protein at every meal
    3. Add some healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil or coconut oil to your meal
    4. Replace your simple carbs, such as white rice, sugar, white flour etc. with complex carbs, such as sweet potato, Quinoa, whole wheat rice etc.

    That’s it. These five simple strategies help me to be highly productive everyday. And this productivity helped me to quit daydreaming and become an entrepreneur, Alhamdulillah!