“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.” (Quran 2: 155)
Some of the most common situations amongst human beings are the trials and tests that they must go through in life but what makes one person different from another is how they react and respond to their specific problems.
It is inevitable that one who is encountering a difficult or tragic situation must struggle hard to curb the persistent negativity sprouting up from within and around him but what exactly is negativity? Negativity mostly starts with a stream of unpleasant thoughts and feelings that are left unresolved, which can lead to hostile behaviour, misplaced anger, frustration and anxiety, followed by erratic outbursts at anyone vulnerable such as, children, co-workers or friends which in turn results in feelings of regret, guilt or depression.
Sounds daunting, right? Let’s see what the Glorious Quran has to say about it. The word waswaas in the Quran means evil whispers that lead to negative thoughts.
“And if an evil whisper from Shaitan tries to turn you away (from doing good), then seek refuge in Allah. Verily, He is the All‑Hearer, the All‑Knower.” (Quran 41:36)
Just like Shaitan, negative thinking is our enemy and it stands in the way of optimism, confidence, motivation and productivity. Moreover, it deprives us of peace, serenity, tranquility and happiness, all of which lead to a meaningful life.
Peter Kinderman, Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society has said, “Whilst we know that a person’s genetics and life circumstances contribute to mental health problems, the results from the study showed that traumatic life events are the main reason people suffer from anxiety and depression. However, the way a person thinks about, and deals with, stressful events is as much an indicator of the level of stress and anxiety they feel”.
Furthermore, Kinderman pointed out in his study that, “Whilst we can’t change a person’s family history or their life experiences, it is possible to help a person to change the way they think and to teach them positive coping strategies that can mitigate and reduce stress levels”.
Keeping both our deen and contemporary research in mind, I have created 10 ways to help you curb negativity in your life.
Have ma’arifa (recognition) of Allah.
The most important thing that has pulled me out of my grief was having the ma’arifaa of Allah, which cannot be attained without going through the quest of seeking true divine knowledge. This ma’arifa eventually leads to complete tawakal (reliance) on Him alone as He is the Supreme and Self Sufficient Power.
Reason and liberate yourself
Liberation from negativity is dependent on the conscious desire and earnest effort to rid oneself from it. We cannot expect to free ourselves from our mental attitude by just dwelling on it. The first step is to identify the existence of negative behaviour, then find its cause and then reason with oneself that it can be overcome as, “indeed, with every difficulty there is ease”. (Quran 94:6)
If something unpleasant happens or you are unable to achieve results in your endeavours, do not generalise and apply it to your whole life or think it is permanent. Rather, focus on that particular time and place. For example, if you’ve been trying to pray five times but are unable to do so, instead of giving up and saying, “I’m not a punctual and focused person”, try saying to yourself, “I know I keep failing but I will try harder each time and will be rewarded for the extra effort and eventually improve, in sha Allah.”
Don’t expect the worst, or despair
Negative thinking encourages extreme assumptions followed by intense reactions. For example, if you are trying to memorise the Quran but keep forgetting the verses, don’t think it will never be possible. Keep striving towards excelling at it and don’t give up.
Don’t obsesses over your mistakes
It’s easy to cling to your mistakes. Instead, repent, rectify, learn from your errors and move on. Similarly, don’t obsess about your failures and trials. Instead, get busy doing something productive within your capacity. Remember that no-one is perfect except Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). Seeking perfection, while coming to terms with one’s imperfections, results in satisfaction and contentment.
Look for your blessings in disguise
Obstacles are transient and impermanent, whether created by a person or a situation. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about a person, for instance, get into the habit of balancing it with one positive thought about them. The positive is there but you have to look for it. Also, look for the good that came out of a seemingly difficult or tragic situation and concentrate on the lesson you learnt from it, rather than focusing on the pain and sorrow it brought.
Don’t hypnotise yourself
Don’t think too much about the past as you can’t change it and you can’t control the future so rather than frightening yourself by visualising the worst, concentrate on making your present better, which can lead to a good outcome in future. Don’t allow negative thoughts to loiter in your mind for long as they germinate and bear negative fruit.
Don’t play the victim
You’ve been blessed with free will, so make the best choices in whatever situation and whichever capacity you can and take responsibility for your actions. Even if our situation becomes unbearable, there is always a way out. By playing the victim, you will not only lose confidence but will lose your will to live a fruitful life. Remember, you have a choice to make change happen, if need be.
Surround yourself with optimism.
When you’re stuck in a negative situation, confide in optimistic people who can put things in perspective and help you reach a positive solution. Also, distance yourself from negative people and if this is not possible then stop paying attention to them. At the same time, zoom away from yourself, look around you for people who are in worse situations than you and this will make you more optimistic and thankful about your own life. Try helping others as it will take your mind off your own worries.
Don’t give up too soon
Whatever you do, do it with a sincere intention and don’t give up too soon. It is not going to be easy to replace a pattern of negativity with a positive attitude. You will have to patiently and consistently cultivate this way of thinking. When you seem to be losing your patience, remind yourself of the ayah, “Indeed Allah is with those who are patient.”
Make a habit of reciting the masnoon duas that specifically ward off the waswas of Shaitan and the evil of one’s own nafs, and duas that seek hasanahs for this world and the next.
For me, one of the most beautiful hadiths that gives great incentive to a believer to shun negative thoughts is,
“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and that does not apply for anyone except the believer. If something good happens to him he gives thanks, and that is good for him; if something bad happens to him he bears it with patience, and that is good for him.” (Saheeh Muslim, 2999)
May Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) help us eradicate both internal and external negativity for His sake and make us utilise our lives to earn eternal bliss, ameen.
This article was first published in Issue 2 of Muslimaat Magazine.