Goal-setting sounds like something simple and intuitive, yet many people fail to achieve the goals they set for themselves simply because they do not set their goals properly. It is sad to say that many people were never actually taught how to set goals properly. Their goals are more like wishes than tangible goals they can work toward.
In Part 1, we created our own list of goals to focus on achieving this Ramadan. Today, I will go on to share the 4 P’s to properly document your goals and my RAMADAN framework to help you design them, In sha Allah.
The 4 P’s of Goal Documentation
It is surprising, but the way you document your goals can have a dramatic effect on the likelihood of your success in achieving them. Some do not bother with documentation and instead opt to rely on their memory.
The truth is, the very fact that you have written your goals down, can dramatically improve your chances of achieving them, according to this study. But writing those goals is not enough; you must make sure to document them correctly. Since you are taking the time and putting in the effort to write them down, you might as well do it right! Here are 4 P’s that will help you make sure you document your goals correctly.
- Positive: Lots of people want to eliminate something negative from their lives. It could be a bad habit like smoking, poor spending habits, eating behaviors, etc. So their goal is to stop doing something negative. Instead of focusing on what you do not want, or what you want to change, focus on what you do want. Your mind automatically attracts what you focus on. If the target of your goal is something negative, you will continue to attract it! This explains why so many just cannot seem to eliminate their bad habits. So for example, do not say “lose 20 lbs.” Rather, say “weigh 175 lbs.” Instead of saying “do not fail to complete the Qur’an again”, say “complete the Qur’an”.
- Person: The trick here is to write your goals out as a sentence and make yourself the subject of that sentence. In other words, write the goal as a sentence in the first person. This forces your mind to associate your identity with your goals, which leads to the subconscious mind calculating the many ways to make this happen. For example, do not compile a list of goals like “weigh 175 lbs”. Instead, say “I want to weigh 175 lbs”. Instead of “Complete the Qur’an”, say “I want to complete the Qur’an”.
- Present Tense: Many people put off their goals to some time in the future. For example, in Ramadan they say “I want to read the entire Qur’an.” Instead of that wishful thinking, fast-forward your life to that point in time when you feel the sensation of having completed the Qur’an and making sincere dua to Allah in gratitude upon completion. Feel the gratitude to Allah in your heart for the tawfiq (aid and success) to reach this goal. Feel the happiness and fulfillment for finally reaching this monumental goal. When you truly feel the sensations and emotions attached with achieving your goal, tie the words on the page to those feelings. This attaches your goals to something pleasurable instead of something painful. In practical terms, it becomes “I am grateful that I have completed the Qur’an”.
- Picture: Once you have the words and the feeling, you need to attach them to a picture since the mind does not think in words; it thinks in pictures. This makes the goal more concrete and completes the connection between your entire mind and the goal. So if your goal is weight loss, for example, imagine the scale reading 175.0 lbs and the feelings that come with it. If it’s Qur’an, imagine looking at the last page and closing it for the last time (in this reading).
The RAMADAN Goal-Setting Framework
Knowing how to properly document your goals is one thing, but knowing what types of goals to set is something completely different! To make this as easy and as simple as possible, I have created a framework to help us formulate the goals that we are targeting. It is fitting that since Ramadan is all about transforming our behavior, that the proper method for setting our goals comes from the word RAMADAN. Your goals must meet these criteria to have the maximum possible impact.
R for Relevant: When setting goals for Ramadan, remember this is the month of getting close to Allah by ibadah, Qur’an, etc. Do not go out of your way to set 20 goals about da’wah. Even the scholars used to close their books of fiqh and hadith during the month of Ramadan and focus exclusively on the Book of Allah . In the same way, make sure the goals you set for yourself this Ramadan are relevant to the month of Ramadan.
Another consideration is the goal must be relevant to YOU. Is this something you genuinely want or is it something being forced upon you? Is your wife hinting that you should lose 10 lbs this Ramadan? Do not agree to it, unless it is something you genuinely want to achieve from the bottom of your heart. Otherwise, you simply will not be successful. And I do not want you to start off in a losing battle!
A for Aspirational: In my corporate training and consulting experience, I commonly hear the expression and acronym “SMART goals” when companies and organizations are trying to create their strategic plans. It is that acronym that forced me to create the RAMADAN goals framework. The A in SMART stands for “achievable”. I don’t believe in setting achievable goals and neither should you!
The point of Ramadan is to expand your capacity and step outside your comfort zone, to aspire to something greater! When setting your goals this Ramadan, pick something that makes you a little nervous. Never prayed taraweeh every day in Ramadan? I challenge you to do it this year! As we discussed last time, Allah has given you a chance to show your potential and has made it so much easier for you by chaining the devils.
This is a chance to set a new standard for yourself and build new habits. Maybe after Ramadan you will continue going to the masjid for Isha throughout the year. Even the Prophet used to tighten his waist belt (i.e. work hard) with the start of the last ten days, meaning he would go over and above what was normal for him to do during the rest of the month. If even he could do more, so can we!
M for Measurable: As an engineer, I know all about metrics and they truly do help us improve. By phrasing your goal as something that is quantifiable and measurable, it creates clarity whether or not you have succeeded in achieving your goal. So instead of saying you want to read more Qur’an, how much do you plan on reading? If your goal is to read the whole book in the month once, that is one juz’ or roughly 20 pages per day. Can you divide this into 10 pages before work and 10 pages after? Or maybe 5 before work, 5 during lunch break, and 10 after? Putting numbers on it makes it real, and helps you come up with a plan for how to begin achieving these goals. We will go into this in greater detail in the next article, In sha Allah.
A for Assess: You need to have a system to keep track of how you are doing with your goals from day to day. This assessment goes hand-in-hand with redefining your goals as measurable. The process of reviewing a system to assess your performance is called muhasabah, or holding yourself accountable. Omar said: “Bring yourself to account before you are taken to account and weigh your deeds before your deeds are weighed” [Ibnul-Qayyim, Ighathat al-lahfan].
I believe every Muslim should have his own system to keep track of his deeds on a daily basis. For example, I have created a spreadsheet in Excel I use to track certain daily behaviors like prayers, sunnahs, exercise, sleep, etc. Alternatively, it could be as simple as a special journal you keep next to your bed. Every night before sleeping, you should review your actions of the day and see what corrections you need to make for tomorrow. Then, using that information, every week you should review your progress toward your goals and determine what corrections need to be made for this week. We will discuss this more in the next article, In sha Allah.
D for Definite: When setting goals, you need a clear, unambiguous target. Just like making the goal measurable helps give you a criterion for success, making your goal definite will do the same. “I need to be a better person this Ramadan” just will not work. Be specific. How will you improve? With your parents? With your neighbors? With your salah? Maybe you will be more truthful? How will you know you succeeded? Will a third party be able to verify if you have succeeded? If not, keep trying to make it more definite so anyone else can determine if you have been successful or not.
A for Appointment/Agenda: Having 100 goals is great, but if you do not set the time aside to complete them, they will never be accomplished. That is why you need to set an appointment with yourself in your agenda or your calendar. Let’s go back to the Qur’an example. If you set the goal to read 20 pages a day, how long does it take for you to read a page? If it takes several minutes since Arabic is not your native language, you need to plan accordingly. That might mean it will take you one hour or more every day to read Qur’an. When will you make the time to do that? It may interfere with your other goal of being more charitable and volunteering in the neighborhood soup kitchen. Which of these two noble efforts will get that precious hour of your time? You need to make that decision in advance so you do not feel bad for doing one or the other.
There is also a practical benefit to putting it in your calendar: You can set up automatic reminders on your computer and smart phone. If you prefer a paper solution, you can print out your daily agenda and review it the night before to ensure each appointment gets its due preparation.
N for Novelty: For many years, we set the same goals over and over. “This Ramadan, I want to read the whole Qur’an”, we say, yet sadly we never do. This creates a lot of pressure on you, year after year, and can set you into a downward spiral. You start to believe you can never succeed at this goal, or any goal for that matter.
This Ramadan, try focusing on something new. Maybe do more dhikr and focus less on racing to the last page of the Qur’an. Do not ignore it, but recite it with concentration and pondering as you go along, rather than obsessing over completing it this time. Then when you have achieved your new goals, you will build confidence and momentum that you can bring to your old goals at another date.
Also, make sure to set a goal that is a newer higher standard of excellence for you. If you pray five times a day right now, do not make that your goal for Ramadan! Do something new and exciting! But if you are currently not praying five times per day, you can try increase your target to five times a day this Ramadan.
Take the list of goals you created last time and refine them using this worksheet, ensuring you are using the 4 P’s and the RAMADAN framework. From there, narrow them down to the top 5-10 goals that you will absolutely achieve this Ramadan, In sha Allah. Do not worry; the next article will explain how to do that exactly!
Is setting goals for Ramadan something new to you? How did it feel to write down those goals and filter them according to the 4 P’s and RAMADAN framework? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!
This post was originally published on Jun 2, 2014