“Narrated ‘Aisha: Allah’s Apostle said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even though it were little.”
The whole point of the above hadith is to practice Istiqomah – the consistency of actions. The beautiful aspect about this is that it applies to everything we undertake in our lives, not just our ibadah.
How many advice have you read that go along the line of “slowly but surely” or “do it consistently and then gradually increase”? I’d say all! No one in the right mind will advice another person to go from one extreme to another in a day; from praying to jogging, from quitting smoking to even writing.
To jump from one extreme to another is to go against our very fitrah – the nature of our creation.
After all, the Qur’an was not sent down to change the people of Arabia in one day. Allah swt too did not command the faithful to adhere to all the rulings as we know of today in one sweeping statement. Case in point, the prohibition of alcohol came in three stages – from asking people to reflect on its positive and negative effects, to disallowing drunkenness during prayer, and then finally, prohibiting it altogether.
A new habit, change, would thus have to be made in little steps.
Consistent little steps
This hadith is one that I regularly reflect on often, for I know myself to be a person who launches something with great gusto, only to drop it off days or weeks later when all the enthusiasm has been blown it away.
For example, I would obsess over writing the next big novel, and I would spend days just camped in front of my computer, hammering words for hours. Four chapters later, I would be too exhausted to continue. Check my folders and you’ll find the start of many stories… none with any endings.
Or I would be gung-ho about reading a whole juz’ of the Qur’an per day, and after a week, I would give up because it got too taxing.
Or I would download a dozen applications for running, pat myself on the back for jogging once, and spend the next one month complaining that I did not lose weight.
Or… the list goes on. Trust me.
A lot of the self-help books I have been reading are firm on the fact that only through consistence in action can a person hone himself. Man is a creature of habit, and once a person does an action regularly enough, the action comes easily to him after a while. This is to the extent that when he doesn’t do it, he would feel that something is missing.
Similarly, when he drops a habit, and he leaves it long enough, he will slide back into the comforts of not doing that habit.
Two years ago, for months, I would read the Mathurat every morning without fail to the point that I memorized it without even making any conscious effort to do so. But for some reason, I stopped reading it. At first it felt weird, but I persisted in not reading. After a week, starting my mornings without the Mathurat seemed like the natural thing to do.
In fact, I think losing a habit is way easier than picking up a habit!
Be aware in order to be consistent
So today, right now, I am suggesting that we reflect on the actions we take in our daily life. What are the actions (both ibadah and others) that we perform regularly? What are the actions that we perform intermittently?
For the actions that we have consistently been doing, we tell ourselves to keep it up. For those that we have been performing intermittently, choose ONE or TWO action from these, and strive to hone that action(s) to become a habit.
My Ustaz in IIUM would always remind me,
“It is better to pray two rakaat sunnah before Fajr prayers every day from now until you die, than praying all the sunnah prayers today and drop everything tomorrow.”
Similarly, we may want to pick up several new habits like reading the Qur’an, writing, jogging, not gossiping etc. Rather than to undertake all of them at once, prioritize the most important habit we want to develop, and then start with one small step.
It may be terribly hard to even begin that first step, but once you do it consistently enough, things will get easier. Just like how writing a thousand words a day seem like a daunting task to me at first, but after a week, it has evolved to become a natural thing I do after my Fajr prayers, alhamdulillah.
And the most important (and best) thing of all, even if our small steps look like specks of dust compared to the blazing trails of others, we just have to remember what the Prophet Muhammad (s) said – that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and consistent, even though it were little.
May Allah swt make us all consistent in our good actions. Ameen!
P/s. My latest book – Ramadhan Ruminations – is a literally a test of consistency as I’m getting myself to write a motivational or reflective article each day of Ramadhan, to be delivered to all those who pre-order it :) More details of the book here.