Motivation, discipline, and habits

By Maira Shahzad

One of the assumptions that go into praying habits is that one needs to be motivated to pray. In extension, those who pray regularly, do so because they always feel like it. This, however, is an erroneous assumption because as Muslims, there are times when the motivation to pray is lacking and times when we are struggling to revive our faith after a period of feeling low on Iman. This idea of lacking the motivation to carry out tasks extends beyond just religious practice. Sometimes, we know that as students we should study consistently, and it is in our best interest, yet we lack the motivation to do so.

A good way to think about accomplishing tasks is to not rely on motivation, but on cultivating the discipline to work consistently to form a habit that will benefit us in the long-term. Perseverance and consistency, when applied in different domains whether it be religion, work or studies is a much stronger asset to have. It is unproductive to think that in order to accomplish a task one must feel a certain way, that they must be motivated to take action. It is better to rely on a system that operates on discipline which will prove to be self-fulfilling, as opposed to relying on motivation which comes and goes in short spans of time. Self-discipline relies more on our intrinsic self and therefore habits that are cultivated over time, so much that they become a part of us, are easier to act on. There are a lot of activities and tasks that must be accomplished on a daily basis, and these may be mundane, menial, and boring tasks. But they are significant nonetheless, so these tasks require discipline more than motivation. It is hard to feel motivated about doing a small task such as making your bed, but doing so reinforces discipline and it can make you feel good about having accomplished a task which seemed rather inconsequential but holds importance.

Small tasks, when carried out consistently, build habits that can last longer and they essentially become an integral part of our lifestyle. These smaller, easier-to-do tasks are simple and they lessen the friction between bigger, more complex tasks. Most importantly, because small tasks are relatively low stakes and require less time to do, and therefore cause less disruption in routine, they can be carried out consistently. This idea holds importance in Islam, too. It has been narrated in the Hadith literature that the Prophet S.A.W. said that: “the best deeds are those that are done regularly, even if they are a few”. This allows us to rethink our attempts at forming habits to carry out tasks when we may not be motivated to do so. It is also helpful in cultivating discipline in different domains of life, whether you are looking to take up a new religious practice, such as giving charity or trying to be consistent in daily activity, such as exercising. Consistency, perseverance, along with the idea of keeping our greater purpose in mind when carrying out a task, can be seen as key elements of cultivating discipline in life, especially when we may be lacking motivation.

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