By: Shannon Abulnasr
Part 1 covered planning and preparing for change, while Part 2 covered pressure, performance, and avoiding burnout. This section will discuss harnessing positive thinking, and coping with criticism.
The Power of Positive Thinking
Negative thinking leads to more negative thinking, so the only way to turn things around is to try to think more positively.
It can be hard habit to change, but it isn’t impossible. Start small.
When you realize it is time to pray, instead of thinking “I don’t want to make wudu’ because I’m in the middle of a movie”, identify that you just had a negative thought, and think of what the positives would be.
Instead think: “I know I might miss a few minutes of the movie, but if I get up and do this, I will get more rewards for it, because Allah will know I’m giving up something I want for Him, and I need that!”…. and then get up and do it!
Acknowledge even the small accomplishments you make. This will help you find the joy and significance in what you do, and will subconsciously be motivating yourself to continue improving.
Sometimes other people lead us to negative thinking.
You may find yourself in a good mood going to work, then a co-worker will rant with negativity, and you find yourself following their lead. Spot it when it happens, and think of how you can bring positivity back into the workplace.
Make a goal to compliment several co-workers each day on their work, and gradually, you will start to see them following your lead. This is a shared group mentality. One negative person can bring everyone else down, but all it takes is one person to bring them all back to being positive.
Negative comments from others can add to the negative feelings you already have. Countering these negative feelings can be effective if you learn how to harness positive thinking and use affirmations to get yet these negative thoughts out of your mind.
Positive Thinking Using Affirmations
Affirmations are positive statements and thoughts that help you overcome self-sabotage, and raise your self-esteem, and prevent depression.
If you can use positive affirmations for about two weeks, you will experience higher self-esteem, decrease depression symptoms and negative thinking.
Positive affirmations techniques are like an exercise for your mind and outlook. When you repeat them over and over, you will gradually begin to think and act in a new, better way.
This technique is very helpful when battling negative comments from family and friends that give you a hard time about Islam. When you face such situations, tell yourself that you have no reason to feel ashamed, or degraded by their comments, and that you are improving yourself, and any negative things they say are personal problems they have, not you.
Tell yourself that you are strong, and intelligent, and can handle criticism, because you are firm in your faith in Allah, and that He will help you pull through anything, even this.
When making affirmations, it is best to form them in the present tense as if it is already happening. If you are not feeling confident, you would tell yourself: “I’m doing just fine, and know what I’m doing.” Be your own pep-squad.
A coach before a game doesn’t tell his team negative thoughts, he instead pumps them up with positive affirmations, because if he didn’t, they won’t feel confident, and will perform badly. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until it is firmly in your mind, and say them with feeling!
So, next time you are feeling low, repeat your affirmations to yourself. Visualize your goals, and think positive.
Some examples of positive affirmations that you may want to tell yourself are:
I know I’m on the right path, and no one will stop me!
Allah will pull me through all things, as long as I put my faith in Him.
I can do this!
I’m honest, sincere, and steadfast, and that is all that matters.
I am worthy of respect and will not accept anything less.
I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of my Islam.
I’m a great role model for others.
I’m proud to dress modestly.
I’m doing my best!
So, you may be wondering: “well, how do I remain positive when I’m constantly being criticized?”
There are many variations of types of criticisms we get, and from different groups of people. New Muslims get criticisms from both the non-Muslims, as well as the Muslims, so let’s start with how to deal with the Muslims first.
Dealing with Aggressive “Helpy-Helpertons”
Everyone has someone that is constantly pushing them to follow their advice and do as they suggest, even to the point of being aggressive or judgmental if you don’t.
If you are able to implement it, tell them thanks for the advice, and work on doing it. If it is something that you can’t take on yet, tell them you appreciate their advice, and once you are at that stage, you will implement it, and that you are trying not to rush everything.
Don’t take on more than you can handle easily, especially if you are trying to recover from a burnout. In order to do this, you will surely encounter friction with these helpy-helpertons because they will see you as rejecting their concerns for you and feeling unappreciated, if you don’t follow and do as they say immediately.
The trick to dealing with such people is learning how to say “no” to the advice or suggestions, without making them feel that you don’t appreciate their concern for you in a diplomatic manner.
People are overly excited to help teach a new Muslim something, or to scrutinize every move you make to the point that it becomes irritating and you feel you are targeted for judgment. Try to remember that they are only trying to help because they care for you, and want to help, so their intentions are good, even if they don’t go about it in the appropriate way. Advice doesn’t always equal criticism, but sometimes it does, so learn to know the difference.
So, next time someone says: “oh, you should say this (insert their really long du’a here) before doing xyz”, just reply to them with: “Thank you for letting me know about this, however, I still need to learn the fundamentals, before I move on to the advanced sunnahs, so when I’m ready for that can I ask you to help me with it at that time?”
This will let them know that it is beyond the stage you are currently at, and that you appreciate their concern, and will turn to them for that later on.
The Ever Watchful Haram Police
Mary had taken her shahadah, and literally, on her third day as a new Muslim, she came to the masjid for the Friday prayers, and she met another sister in the parking lot that recognized her from the gas station down the road, where Mary worked.
While not knowing how long she had been Muslim, she said to her “Nice car!”, and when Mary responded saying “Thanks, I only have 6 more payments until my loan is paid off.” Then the woman told her “What? You have a loan for your car! Astaghfirullah, don’t you know that riba (interest) is haram!?” and then left her standing there.
Mary was left feeling insulted and unwelcomed, and then felt too shy to enter the masjid, because she hadn’t even made it inside the building yet, and was already having people judging her.
Be prepared, because you will certainly encounter people that will watch every move you make, how you dress, what you say, where you go, who you talk to, and every other aspect of your life as if you are under investigation for something.
They are like hawks looking for prey. They swoop down on the spot at any moment to point out every tiny thing you do wrong. These are the ‘haram police’. They seem to have nothing better to do that sit back and criticize everyone else. They never comment on what you do right, and only comment on what you do wrong.
The internet is filled with haram police, because they feel more secure in lashing out at people disregarding how people view their behavior, speaking without compassion, because they are hiding behind a computer screen.
While obligated in Islam to tell our brothers and sisters in faith that they are doing something wrong, they rarely know how to go about it in a manner that isn’t coming off as aggressive or down-right judgmental. They give off the ‘holier than thou’ impression that they are better than you. The haram police can really tear you apart like vultures if you let them.
So, how to deal with these aggressive judgmental people?
Most importantly, remember that they are most likely being sincere in wanting to make sure that you are doing things properly, and just don’t know how to give subtle advice properly.
Explain that you are still in the learning process, and that you value their input, and will try implementing things as you go, but it may take you time to fully adapt to things. Don’t let yourself feel as if you are being judged.
If they continue to the point you feel bullied, kindly tell them that their approach is hurtful and seems uncompassionate considering you are still learning, and insha'Allah they will realize that they are causing more harm than good and think about how they advise people in the future.
Remind them that you appreciate their concern, but would appreciate some kindness.
Wish them well, and walk away.
(Continue reading parts 1, 2, and 4 of the series linked below)