When we talk about building habits, the hardest thing to accomplish is not doing our new practice once, but executing day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it.
Consistency is not easy; it can take a lifetime to build. Luckily, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) offered a valuable framework to understand this idea through when he said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”
It sounds counterintuitive, but our own motivation can sometimes be a barrier to our success. We can be so enthusiastic about improving that we commit to take up dozens of new habits all at the same time, and after a while, we’ve lost consistency with all of them.
Avoiding this pitfall takes an intimate understanding of our own capacity, something that isn’t realized overnight. Repeated mistakes are part of the process, and kindness to ourselves until we strike a good balance is imperative if we want to succeed.
Instead of the shotgun approach to self-reform, we have to employ a more focused approach. For the one or two practices we choose to commit ourselves to, we have to commit with 100% dedication.
In a video I recently came across by motivational speaker Brian Johnson, he coined a colorful phrase that I’ll edit for our purposes: 99% is a burden, 100% is a breeze.
The idea is that if you resolve to make a change in your life, but only commit to it 99%, every time a temptation arises to break your new habit, your will-power will be tested.
The corporate trainer and entrepreneur Jack Canfield says, “Successful people adhere to the ‘No exceptions rule’ when it comes to their daily disciplines. Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal. Non-negotiable. Case-closed! Over and out.”
When we don’t commit fully, there is a small crack that remains in our resolve. Our nafs or lower self will exploit that vulnerability and tempt us when we least expect it.
Over time, the gap can widen and break down the foundations we were trying to establish with that new behavior until it is lost completely.
We’re probably intimately aware of this phenomenon in our own lives and have experienced it numerous times. When we fall off the wagon with certain habits, a lot of times it’s because we make exceptions for ourselves.
With dieting, for example, a cheat day that we schedule for ourselves becomes a cheat week. Working out is delayed until the next day, when we “feel like it”. A daily litany or reflection gets pushed aside because of other commitments.
Eventually, we forget the motivation we had to make an improvement in the first place.
What if we committed to something more realistic for ourselves, a small improvement in diet like avoiding sugary drinks? What if we committed to an act so small that if we didn’t do it on a daily basis, it would be nothing short of embarrassing? What if with that commitment, we were uncompromising, no matter what situations arose?
The change would cease to be a temporary peculiarity, and become an entrenched improvement. No exceptions, done deal, non-negotiable.
What are the things in our lives that we need to be doing with no-exceptions? What needs to be non-negotiable?
Chances are, our lists aren’t pages long. There is probably one major change in our lives that we see as a priority for right now in order to become closer to the person we want to be.
If we commit to 100% dedication in that area, we’ll be surprised with how much an extra 1% can do.