Striving For Excellence in Thoughts and Action
Allah says in the Qur’an that, “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2].
That means that we need to have high standards, to be extraordinary, to be excellent at everything that we do, to the best of our ability. We need to have high aspiration and be people who have big visions for ourselves and for the ummah, for the humanity.
It’s not only necessary to have high aspiration, we have to be excellent in our actions as well because Islam is not just about belief. It’s both belief and action, belief and doing good. So many places in the Qur’an Allah mentions belief and action together. Here are just 3 out of probably about two dozen places where “believe and do good” is mentioned together.
“Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted.” [Qur’an: Chapter 95, Verse 6]
“As for those who believed and did righteous deeds, for them will be the Gardens of Refuge as accommodation for what they used to do.” [Qur’an: Chapter 32, Verse 19]
“Allah has promised those who believe and do righteous deeds [that] for them there is forgiveness and great reward.” [Qur’an: Chapter 5, Verse 9]
We need to have excellence in action. “Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (proficiency, perfection) in all things. So if you kill then kill well; and if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” [40 Hadith Nawawi, Hadith 17]
To be excellent in our actions, we need to be excellent in our thinking. For it is our thinking that produces our action. It is important to be aware of our thinking patterns. There is what’s called a “boundary condition of our thinking” – where we end up looping the same thoughts, coming up with the same solution to our challenges or reaching the same conclusion. What changes our thinking is the questions that we ask ourselves. The questions need to be quality questions.
Taking Responsibility and Asking the Right Questions
Most of us have never been taught or trained to ask ourselves quality questions. Most often than not, the questions that we ask ourselves lead us to be dis-empowered and blame the circumstances that we’re in or blame others. To be productive with a motive, we need to be clear on what we want first. Then we need to take responsibility. Response-ability. Most people just react.. they don’t respond.
So taking responsibility is about looking inside ourselves when we’re faced with a challenge or problem and asking, “What did I do that has caused this? What can I do to fix this? How can I make it better? What is the benefit in this?
Compare the above questions to the following ones.
- Why me?
- Why does this always happen to me?”
- Why doesn’t anybody care?
- What is wrong with me?”
- Don’t start your question with “Why me” or “What is wrong…?” Instead start with, “What is right…?” or “How can I…?”.
If you ask a “Why” question, you’re most definitely going to come up with at least one reason, or excuse or justification. If you ask a ‘How’ question, you’re more likely to come up with a solution or a way to the solution.
Our language determines what we experience. There is a concept in neuroscience/positive psychology that states, “You can not think about what you don’t want to think about without thinking about it first”. If I tell you to NOT THINK about a blue tree with bright yellow stripes and purple leaves, your brain has to process the sentence first and picture that in your mind to NOT THINK about it or negate it.
When you start a question with what is wrong, you’re focusing on the “wrong” and that’s what you will find in your answer. Also, please remember that in a hadith Qudsi, Allah the Almighty says that, “I am as My servant thinks I am.” So, your expectations definitely affect your world view and what you experience.
(Just a side note here. People with low self-esteem and/or the label “depression” generally make this mistake.. Thinking that they make mistakes and thus they’re bad, and Allah won’t forgive them and that’s why they have all these things “happening to them”. This destroys your self-image, self-esteem and can ultimately lead to shirk because you are limiting Allah ’s mercy to your own limited world view.)
Now this information has impact on us on two levels. One is that we can now consciously phrase our questions to make us think outside the box and allow us to come up with creative answers and ways of being productive.
And, two, we want to consciously use moving towards language i.e. to say it the way you want it. For example, rather than telling yourself, “Don’t be anxious, nothing is going to go wrong”, say, “Relax, everything will be all right”.
What did our beloved Prophet say? “…and he who believes in Allah and the Hereafter should say something good or keep quiet.” [Sahih Muslim]
We can’t be productive if we’re not motivated to take action. And it is our responsibility to motivate ourselves by knowing ourselves well enough and knowing what questions to ask ourselves.
So here are 36 coaching questions to coach yourself to be more goal and action oriented and be more productive. Before you start, get ready with a note book and a pen. Close other tabs in your browsers, Close your Facebook or Youtube, put your mobile on flight mode. Give yourself at least 20 minutes of quite and alone time to really think and answer these questions.
Start with section 3 questions, Gaining new perspective, if you’re stuck in a situation or facing a challenge that you think is bad. Section #1 and #2 are for when you want to discover something better for yourself, get clear on what you want, stop thinking about what you don’t want, discovering the things that are standing in your way to reaching your goal and overcoming these roadblocks.
#1 Defining Goals
- If I were to FULLY live my life, what is the first change I would start to make?
- What areas of my life could be improved?
- What could I work on now that would make the biggest difference to my life in 5-10 years/the end of my life/the akhira?
- What do I want MORE of in my life? (make a list)
- What do I want LESS of in my life? (make a list)
- What are the three things that I’m doing regularly that don’t serve or support me (achieving my goals)?
- How could I make this goal more specific and measurable?
- How can I make this something I’m aiming towards, rather than something I’m trying to move away from?
- Is now the right time for me to make a commitment to achieving these goals?
- What could I take action on right now that would benefit one other person in my family/community?
- What could I take action on right now that would put a big smile on my face?
- What’s one change I could make to my lifestyle that would give me more peace and happiness?
#2 Action Steps
- What is the first/next step?
- What research could I do to help me find the first/next step?
- Who could I talk to who has already done this? Or help me shine the light on this?
- Who should I be hanging out with – so that achieving this goal becomes easy and natural? (i.e. Who’s already doing it?)
- How can I get the knowledge/information I need?
- What are three small actions I could take that would move me towards the goals this week?
- What do I have to overcome to take the next step? (handle fear, need confidence, support, need to learn new a new skill)
- What is the cost of me NOT doing anything about this?
#3 Gaining New Perspective
- What can I learn from this?
- In what way is the current situation absolutely perfect?
- How could I turn this around immediately and enjoy the process?
- What in this situation can I find to be grateful for?
- What am I doing well? What can I do better?
- What’s my favourite way of sabotaging myself and my goals?
Once you’ve come up with the answers, structure them in a way that you can take action on by using Productive Muslim method of prioritising and scheduling. Here some past articles that you will find useful, insha’Allah.
In conclusion, we need to be aware of how we talk to ourselves because our language directs our focus and our focus affects our experience. Like Einstein said, “The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” And an effective way to change the level of our thinking is by asking quality questions that are designed to get us thinking differently that we normally do and to get us out of the boundary conditions of our thinking.
Please share how these questions prompted you to think differently and benefited you to take action to be more productive, insha’Allah.