know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. — Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

The new Islamic year (1429 Hijri) is finally here. A few days ago, people celebrated the beginnings of 2008 in many novel as well as traditional ways. One of the usual ways was to set new goals and resolutions for personal transformation and improvement. Although, setting resolutions and goals is a powerful tool to help you potentially shape your destiny, you should note that there is no concept of “New Year Resolutions” within the teachings of Islam. Instead, as Muslims you should constantly be assessing your lives and setting goals and making resolutions, rather than waiting for special days during the year to perform the exercise.

However, given the importance of personal transformation (something that lot of us need), this is an appropriate time to discuss this subject.

Let’s start by looking at the lives of all those who achieved remarkable successes by being committed to their goals. Among millions of examples, we see a powerful example in the life of Prophet Muhammad (saws) whose endless efforts and perseverance with the help of Allah, brought guidance to humanity at large and as a result of which we see more than a billion Muslims on this planet today. Thomas Edison, the inventor of light bulb and other countless inventions was committed enough to succeed even though according to him, he failed at least in 700 different projects. Abraham Lincoln who fought for abolishing slavery in the United States and became one of the most popular and successful presidents, actually lost many Congress and Senate races, and had nervous breakdown before he achieved his accolades and successes.

All these individuals were committed to achieving their goals. And through their wisdom, hard work, commitment, perseverance, and God’s will, they achieved what they had set out to achieve.

The question you need to ask yourself is where do you stand in setting your goals and what are you doing to achieve them?

You should know that the process of setting goals and making resolutions is mostly about you. If you don’t set your goals, you don’t move forward. If you set them and don’t follow through, you still don’t move forward. Resolutions are the specific steps that propel your life forward toward your goals while still immersed in the daily chores of life; resolutions are about how your behavior impacts other people’s lives; More importantly, resolutions are about your relationship with your Creator and how you strengthen that relationship by living life in accordance to His guidance.

If you are not in the habit of setting resolutions and goals, you should review the direction of your life and assess how your actions are contributing to your betterment and to your loved ones in accordance with the teachings of your Creator?

If you have a mere general idea on where you are heading simply because you are too busy to chart out a more directed course of action, you may not be fully harnessing your God gifted abilities. Setting goals and resolutions therefore enable you to step away and analyze the clutter in your life; they let you rise above the daily chores that keep you busy and keep you from organizing. The process is therefore about prioritizing and highlighting what is more important to make your life more meaningful. Here we recall a famous quote by Henry David Thoreau, who stated that “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

It is about self assessment and self evaluation – The Second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab said, “Criticize and appraise yourselves before you are criticized and appraised….”. Therefore, setting goals and making resolutions is all about self improvement and to instill that attitude within ourselves. Abraham Lincoln once commented, “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

The truth indeed is that you can not be better today if you did not set out to become better yesterday and took the necessary actions for that betterment.

It is about “actions” and execution – Setting a resolution is much more than dreaming, thinking and planning about what you want to change. It is about real execution – about doing something – about undertaking a course of action that actually starts bringing you closer to what you want to achieve. Many a people, organizations and countries fail in their lives and in their pursuits simply because of lack of execution. They plan but then can’t follow through; they talk but they can’t perform;

Even in the religion of Islam that emphasizes asking your Creator and Sustainer about your needs, there is an equal and parallel importance of your personal actions and deeds. Dr. Aaidh Al-Qrani in his famous book, “Don’t be Sad” says that once Umar bin Khattab got very angry with youth who were simply spending time in the mosque and told them: “Go out and seek sustenance, for the sky does not send down rain of gold or silver.” Confucious, a famous philosopher once said: “The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.” Florence Nightingale who had a lasting contribution in founding the modern nursing profession once said: “You ask me why I do not write something….I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.”

How many times have you planned but failed to execute? Isn’t it time to actually get on with a sustained course of action?

It is about using time wisely – Setting resolutions helps us maximize our time in life instead of squandering the valuable moments away. We all know how time flies but unfortunately many times we do not make full use of our time and life in general. Mu`adh ibn Jabal quotes the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as saying: “A servant of Allah will remain standing on the Day of Resurrection until he is asked about four things: his life and how he spent it, his youth and how he used it up, his property and how he acquired and managed it and his knowledge and how he utilized it.”

We should therefore remind ourselves that we too have an end that is approaching. So, why squander our time away on nonessential pursuits?

It is about focused actions and tasks – Resolutions and goals help you focus on the right actions and tasks. Think about when you are about to take a long trip away from home. Our productivity in the number of tasks we complete before we take a trip is phenomenal simply because we have a deadline to meet and our energies are extremely focused. The closer you get to your time of travel, the more you ensure that you utilize each and every second available to you.

Can you imagine how much you will be able to accomplish daily only if you became half that productive and efficient?

It is about behavioral change – Setting goals and resolutions involves completely stepping away from behaviors you want to change – In Islam, this parallels the concept of “Repentence” or “Taubah” because the psychological, spiritual and physical dynamics is almost the same. Repentance in Islam entails stopping bad behavior, regretting past indulgence in that behavior, understanding the need to shy away from the bad behavior, making a strong intention not to return to the old behavior and finally substituting bad with good behaviors (better deeds).

Why not then apply the same dynamics to change any of your undesirable behaviors and habits, and embark on a major journey of personal progress?

It is about clarity of vision – Setting goals requires that you are clear about who you are and what you want to achieve. A confused mind can not set meaningful goals. A person not confident about his beliefs and values is rarely successful in charting out a meaningful course of action. This is why Sahaba (companions of the prophet) were able to unilaterally commit to the prophet and his cause. They clearly understood their role in this life. Once when in Madinah, the prophet had to send a group to Yemen for teaching new Muslims there about Islam. The prophet picked Mu’adh bin Jabal as their leader (even though Muadh was very young – perhaps in his early twenties). The prophet said, “The most knowledgeable of my ummah [community] in matters of Halal [permitted, allowed, lawful or legal] and Haram [forbidden] is Mu’adh bin Jabal.”

If Muadh was able to get that clarity at such a young age where he was chosen by the prophet (saws) to lead a group of mentors and teachers to a foreign land, why can’t we get clearer on who we are?

To conclude, remember this – The process of setting goals and resolutions requires that you actually take time to analyze where you stand and chart out what you want to become. More often, we are held back because of procrastination and habits that are difficult to change. However, we must realize that it is only we who can help our own selves cross that chasm.

So, start the change today – take the time to know yourself better – identify your weaknesses and commit to eliminate them. Assess your strengths and use them for meaningful pursuits. All in all, invest the effort to embark on a personal transformation that can help you, your families, the world around you and can make your relationship with your Creator even stronger. Because if you don’t take the step, Allah may not help you.

He says in the Quran:

That is so because Allah will never change a grace which He has bestowed on a people until they change what is in their own selves. And verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower. (Chapter 8 – Verse 53)

Your comments and feedback are always welcome!