As a hospital employee and owner of a writing business, I have respect for self-discipline, but I struggle with it. We all know how important it is to be self-disciplined, avoid distractions and focus on our career goals, but that can be easier said than done.
Talent, a college education, and ambition are not enough to be successful in a career. Especially for those of you working in high-stress fields that have bad turnover rates, without self-discipline and emotional regulation, it is a track to anxiety disorders, physical health problems from stress, and a greater possibility of not achieving career success.
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become [God-conscious]” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 183]
Here is how your faith is helping you live the best version of yourself even professionally.
Islam promotes self-discipline. We can see this in the discipline needed to wake up before dawn for prayer, guarding one’s chastity and abstaining from items which are commonplace in society such as drinking. Consider for a moment that while fasting during Ramadan, you are more susceptible to provocation and irritability due to hunger and thirst, yet if provoked we are recommended to respond with “I’m fasting” instead of anger.
“When any one of you gets up in the morning in the state of fasting, he should neither use obscene language nor do any act of ignorance. And if anyone slanders him or quarrels with him, he should say:” I am fasting, I am fasting.” [Muslim]
Acts such as backbiting and lying are always prohibited for us, but this is even more so during Ramadan. We are repeatedly facing situations in Ramadan that require us to exercise self-discipline, which really is a commitment towards mastering one’s self.
As your self-discipline grows, this carries into your career as you become more organized, accountable and productive. A self-disciplined employee and leader are more steadfast, ingenious and diligent in their tasks, refusing to quit when times get tough.
A psychological experiment performed at Stanford in the 70’s examined delayed gratification with children using marshmallows. Kids could have one marshmallow instantly or if they chose to delay that gratification and exercise self-discipline, they received two marshmallows. These same children were followed up with years later and the ones who were able to delay gratification were shown to perform higher on exams, have more positive coping skills for stress, better reasoning abilities, and higher focus.
Imagine for a moment if you could flip a switch and have stronger focus, reasoning and coping skills; all of these impact work performance and productivity.
While fasting, our nature tells us to eat and drink. It is more than a mere desire, it is related to our core survivalist instincts. Ramadan fasting is an all-day exercise in delayed gratification. When you are able to master delayed gratification this gives you the strength to curve impulsive behaviors, which can be very dangerous in the corporate world. Business decisions need to be calculated, methodical and not rushed. Additionally, being impulsive in the workplace opens the door to anger, overlooked opportunities and even lustful actions with coworkers.
“But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, Then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge” [Qur’an: Chapter 79, Verse 40-41]
Fasting gives us time to reflect; about ourselves and about our faith. You are able to spend time in introspection. If it is your goal to become a better employee or a better leader, you have to understand yourself first. The more self-aware you become the easier it is to control your thought patterns which impact your emotions. Then you can better recognize your weaknesses in order to take steps forward. Self-awareness actually increases your ability to understand others which is beneficial for interacting with clients, co-workers, and leadership.
Neuropsychology of Fasting
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s amazing ability to modify itself. Subhanallah your brain is not static, it has the ability to change and fasting impacts this. The Journal of Neuroscience highlights evidence of neuroplasticity within the limbic system during periods of fasting. You may be wondering what the limbic system is. Essentially, it is the areas around the thalamus which help us regulate our emotions as well as our drives. This is directly related to self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification.
Therefore, Ramadan fasting provides you with the opportunity to strengthen neural pathways associated with emotional regulation and discipline at work. If you think of your brain as a muscle you can exercise, you are taking your brain to the gym during Ramadan!
As long as you properly fuel it during iftar and suhoor as well as getting adequate sleep after evening prayers, you will improve your work discipline on a psychological and a neurological level.
At this point, you should have realized you are capable of picking up any good habit you want and getting rid of the negative ones holding you back. It is time to look at yourself in the mirror and determine where you have room for improvement and how you are going to accomplish this.
If disorganization and distractions take away from your focus, set aside time to clean up your work area while also disabling phone notifications. Make it a regular habit to turn off notifications when you are working and clean up your work area. Creating a schedule beforehand will help you stay on task and also provide a reward when you notice that you completed today’s scheduled tasks. Block out time for your responsibilities and use alert reminders if need be such as google calendar alerts.
Make sure you are setting specific goals instead of vague ones. Instead of making a goal to increase profits, be specific and make a goal to edit your website with SEO within two weeks and post one blog per week to increase marketing. Part of goal setting is holding yourself accountable. Success and excuses do not walk the same path. You have to set goals and schedule out tasks related to those goals. If you don’t meet your goals then sit back and ask yourself why, without passing the blame to others. Maybe you have such a fear of failure that you are not putting in your full effort.. Holding yourself accountable gives you a chance to expand your self-awareness and dig into why you are struggling.
Don’t wait for inspiration, create it. The action itself comes before motivation, yet we tend to think it is the opposite.
Successful CEOs will get up and start working even when they don’t feel the urge to do it. You will notice within 10 minutes you find that drive to keep going and finish your task. Once that happens, reward yourself. Take the time to feel happy about your accomplishment and praise Allah . Say Alhamdulillah and smile.
Ramadan is a time where we not only purify ourselves spiritually and physically, we draw ourselves closer to Allah through acts that require self-discipline. This practice of discipline and delayed gratification extends to our career and workplace decisions. If you are able to control your hunger and thirst, even during hot summer months, you have the ability to become more disciplined with your work habits.
Our spiritual willpower and discipline are exercised during Ramadan, it is a workout that strengthens all areas of our lives. When you feel hungry or thirsty, but you control it; you are teaching your mind that you are the one in charge in of your actions, secondary to Allah who has ultimate control. The more you practice this level of discipline with your day to day life, the more it will positively impact your career.
Now tell us, how do you plan to improve at work this Ramadan?