Staying Motivated

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Question

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh 

How do you keep motivated and complete personal projects you set yourself, to help others, for the deen of Allah? If we work in a group it’s easy to stay motivated, but by yourself, then that’s different.

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Answer 

Wa alaikum salaam  wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

Jazakallahu khair, it’s a good question.

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I think the key to actually completing a project that you’ve embarked on lies in what happens before you start it. This is something that you’ll see quite a lot on Internet forums and blogs: someone comes up with a brilliant idea for some Islamic project, and initially the person is all fired up and full of zeal and energy. And this continues for a while, but the longer it goes on, the more his enthusiasm wanes and eventually it all fizzles out and the idea is left uncompleted. Why? Because the person was too ambitious. He had this grand idea and big dream but didn’t realise what it would take to actually see it through to completion. Once he starts it and realises how difficult it’s going to be, he then loses hope of ever completing it and it remains unfinished.

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For example, on one forum someone had the idea of users posting their favourite recitations of a particular surah. Everyone would then vote on the ones they liked the best. In this way there would arise a compilation of brilliant recitations for each surah of the Qur’an. A really nice idea in the theory – but the problem was that he wanted to start from Surah Baqarah and work his way down. I advised to start with Juz Amma instead, as many people wouldn’t even have listened to the entire recitation of Surah Baqarah, let alone have a favourite one to choose from. In the end, this idea never even took off…

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So they key then is – before starting on something – to choose something that is manageable, something that is within your capability, and something that you know you will have enough time to complete. If you want to translate a text for example, then don’t try and do a whole book. Do just a chapter instead.

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But what if it’s already too late for that? What if you’ve already started something with the good intention of serving the deen of Allah but without realising what a big task it is and how difficult it would be? This is the situation I found myself in with the Mutashabihat. In that case, you make dua. Lots of it. And you just have to persevere, even though you may no longer find enjoyment in it. There are two really important advices of Rasulullah :saw: that are essential in attaining that.

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The first is his saying that the most beloved of deeds to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala are those deeds which are done consistently even if they be small. It’s easy to do some big good deed as just a once-off thing; it’s a lot harder to have that quality of istiqamah, to remain steadfast in doing small good deeds. But that’s they way you have to approach it, bearing in mind that doing so is something that is loved by Allah. The other hadith is where Rasulullah :saw: said that Allah has decreed ihsaan upon all things, meaning that whatever we do should be done with excellence and perfection, to the best of our ability. And can there be said to be any ihsaan in something that is left uncompleted?

It might help to set yourself deadlines or targets. That is one of the reasons why it’s easier to do things in a group: because then you would be accountable to other people, and might have deadlines to meet. So simply impose that mindset on yourself on things that you do on your own as well. For example, when I started this blog I would just blog whenever I felt like it and usually there would be a couple of posts per month. But after a while it became more difficult to keep at it, and there was a time when a whole month went by without anything being posted. I then remembered that hadith mentioned above about the importance of istiqamah, so I decided to set myself the target of writing two posts per month. And alhamdulillah, ever since then I’ve been able to achieve that, even though it doesn’t always turn out the way I want it to be. The same with reciting the Qur’an. You should have a daily target of how much you intend to recite.  Some days it’s easier than others, but on those days when you find it difficult you just have to force yourself to see it through. If you happen to fall behind, then make it up on the following day.

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There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic is when you’re motivated by some external factor. For example, your parents might say, “If you do this then we’ll buy you this.” You’re then motivated to do that thing, not because you want to, but simply because you want your parents to buy you something. Intrinsic motivation is when you are motivated to do something because you want to do it. You do it simply for the joy and pleasure that that thing brings you, not for anything else.

Needless to say, you need to have this second type of motivation when doing Islamic work. If you don’t find pleasure in it – if you’re doing it because of some external factor – then it’s unlikely that you’ll succeed in seeing it through to completion. If there is any extrinsic motivation that has to be involved, then it should be seeking the reward of Allah ta’ala in the akhirah, not seeking the praise of people or any material gain.

Part of the reason why it’s easy to stay motivated in the initial phase of a project is that normally you would share your idea with other people and discuss it with them. If it is a good idea, they would support you and give you encouragement and that would help you to keep going. But very soon people will lose interest and forget about what you are doing, and that could then have a negative effect on your motivation. At this point you would then need to recall why it is that you started it in the first place. You’re doing it for the sake of Allah, not for the sake of people (or at least that’s the way it should be!). He is still aware of what you are doing and He is appreciative of your efforts, so it shouldn’t matter if people have forgotten…

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One last thing: your sins will prevent you from doing such projects and will sap your zeal and enthusiasm, so be wary of that.

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I make dua that Allah ta’ala grants you and I and everyone else the ability to complete all the projects that we embark on for His sake, and that He accepts our efforts from us.

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2 Responses to Staying Motivated

  1. Asma Ahmad says:

    Just what I needed, JazakAllahu Khair.

  2. “You make dua. Lots of it. And you just have to persevere, even though you may no longer find enjoyment in it.”

    “One last thing: your sins will prevent you from doing such projects and will sap your zeal and enthusiasm, so be wary of that.”

    ^ Gems.

    “I make dua that Allah ta’ala grants you and I and everyone else the ability to complete all the projects that we embark on for His sake, and that He accepts our efforts from us.”

    Allahumma ameen.

    May the Almighty reward you for sharing this naseeha, ameen.

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