This is the first of a series of 7 articles on ‘Productive Thinking’. The series aims to address the challenges that Muslims face on many different levels when it comes to productivity. These levels include: the mental, emotional and physical levels. This series will tackle thinking and mindset on the mental level; negative emotions like anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, fear, etc., on the emotional level; and habits on the physical level.
Let’s begin with discussing the important principles to understand and acting on the thinking and mindset level. I’ve drawn up a simple 3-step model for Productive Muslims to follow from the inside out – namely, from thinking to doing and from reasons to results.
1. Why is Productive Thinking Important?
Thinking is a way of being. It’s a habit. Most people who struggle with productivity focus on the doing. Of course, doing – action – is very important. However, if one doesn’t start with being, the right way of thinking and operating from the right mindset, it doesn’t matter what latest cutting-edge technologies and tools one has, he or she will not be able to effectively apply the tools to be productive.
The head and heart need to be dealt with before the hands. Head for thinking and mindset, heart for the right intention, passion and desire and hands to carry out what the heart desires according to the way thought out by the mind. A Productive Muslim has all three operating effectively, starting with the right mindset.
A powerful analogy here is that of a fruit-bearing tree. If you want to change what is visible – the fruits, you have to start with the invisible, which is the root. We don’t just live in one world, one dimension. We live in four dimensions: the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. The physical world is just a result of how we live in the other three. And vice versa.
As Muslims, we believe in the unseen, which is everything else before the physical world. That is why prayer is important, intention is important and good thinking is important before we complain about the physical result (or lack thereof). If our head and heart are not in the right place, our effort won’t be as fruitful.
2. What is Productive Thinking?
Productive thinking is proactive and responsible thinking: being proactive is the first habit of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, by the late leadership expert Stephen Covey. As human beings, we have been blessed with the ability and freedom to choose how to respond to circumstances that happen to us. It is what gives us power and ability to act.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” [Victor Frankl]
What does it mean to take 100% responsibility for what we do? It starts with recognising that with everything that happens ‘to’ us, we have something to do with it. Even if at the physical level, we have no idea of how ‘things can be happening to us’, recognising that we have something to do with it empowers us to start taking action to move towards change.
Of course, it’s a given that whatever good that we have is ultimately from the blessing of Allah . The pain comes when we take responsibility for the good times and take credit for them but when things don’t work out, we look for things outside ourselves to blame.
“What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes of you of evil, [O man], is from yourself.” [Qur’an: Chapter 4, Verse 79]
“And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much.” [Qur’an: Chapter 42, Verse 30]
Productivity thinking is at-cause thinking: we’re either at the cause side of the equation or we’re at the effect side. It’s our choice. People who are successful and productive in life are at-cause. They believe that they are responsible for everything that happens in their life. Whether that belief is true or not doesn’t really matter. What they care about is whether their belief empowers them or not. Regardless of whether our beliefs are true or not, our beliefs act as possibility filters. They determine what we allow ourselves to experience in our lives and what we filter out as not possible. People who go through life on the cause side of the equation have results. Believing this gives them maximum power to create the life that they want.
But if we believe that we are not responsible for what happens in our life, we won’t be able to do anything about the result that we’re experiencing. Such thinking is called at-effect thinking. People who go through life on the effect side of the equation always have reasons or excuses. They have stories that they tell themselves of why things are the way they are. They put the responsibility on everything or everyone else around them but themselves and as a result, they feel like they have no control over what’s going on in their life.
Ask yourself: are you being at-cause or at-effect? Being at-cause is playing above the line. So, are you playing below or above the line?
3. How to Start Thinking Productively
- Awareness: Thinking productively starts with awareness. Remember that space of power, which many people don’t even know exists, between stimulus and response. Always being in a state of remembrance of Allah allows us to be aware that we’ve been blessed with the gift of being able to think, decide and act.
- Take responsibility: Make tawbah. Repent and seek forgiveness for whatever wrong that you’ve done – whether you’re aware of it or not. Remember the prayer of Prophet Yunus that resulted in him being saved:“There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.” [Qur’an: Chapter 21, Verse 87]
- Be above the line: The Qur’an reminds us that we need to change ourselves first before any changes outside of us can happen.“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” [Qu’ran: Chapter 13, Verse 11]
If you’re not getting the results that you want in your personal life, your marriage, your career or business, ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly:
- Am I taking 100% responsibility for both the results and non-results?
- If not, why not? The answer usually has to do with ego and fear: the fear of not being enough, fear of rejection and fear of what people might think.
- Who or what am I blaming as the cause of me not getting the result?
- What am I in denial of?
- What sad stories about myself am I indulging in as to why I can’t?
- If there was no such thing as failure, what would I do?
Then take ownership and take action. As Eldridge Cleaver said: “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Choose what you want to be.
So we’ve touched upon why Productive Thinking is important, what it is and how you can apply it and make it a part of your reality: by first being in the state of awareness, secondly, turning back to Allah and taking responsibility for everything that you did or didn’t do and lastly, answering some questions that will put you back above the line.
The next article will cover a model called the ‘3 Levels of Living’ that can easily be used to gauge your productivity level and be applied in your day-to-day living for maximum productivity – helping you go from ‘no productivity’ to ‘full productivity’.
Share your experience in being above the line in the Comments section!