Golden Rules Of Changing Habits

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From the beginning of our day to the end, many of the daily activities that we perform are from habits that we’ve formed over the years. We tend to repeat what works or feels good or brings the most effective results. One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that 40 percent of our daily activities are simply habits.

“We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response,” Wendy Wood explains in her session at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention. (Science Daily)

A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously or previous repetition of a mental experience. Habits can be behavioral, psychological or spiritual. Some of these habits are very positive and the others are not so positive. As Muslims, we are constantly striving to seek the pleasure of Allah but we tend to become hopeless when we get dragged into the vicious cycle of our bad habits. The most sacred month, Ramadan is the aptest month for us to change ourselves. But this is going to take time and planning.

Every habit that has three components to it :

  • Cue – The trigger for an automatic behaviour to start.
  • Routine – The behaviour itself.
  • Reward – This is how our brain remembers to learn this pattern for the future

When all these are in a constant cycle every single day it’s called a habit loop.

Fortunately, neuroscience and psychology have found ways to interrupt or disturb these cycles that will change or replace our habits.

Now here comes the Golden Rule, The Golden Rule of Habit Change says that the most effective way to shift a habit is to diagnose and retain the old cue and reward, and try to change only the routine (Charles Duhigg). In other words, while keeping the same triggers and sense of pleasure, try to change only your habit.

Analyze Your Trigger

The first component to transformation is finding the cue, the triggers. These triggers are the ones causing you to repeat the behaviour, and hence creating a continuous loop for the bad habit. For instance, you have a bad habit of listening to music. Analyze your day and pinpoint the exact feeling in your heart or in your surrounding that triggers you to listen to music. The triggers could be – Silence, boredom, being by yourself, studying for long hours, etc. The goal here is to analyze the trigger and eliminate the trigger by eliminating the source of this trigger.

There are a few ways to tackle these triggers – Blocking, distraction or absolute elimination. For example, if you’re tempted to music while studying for long hours you can easily start playing Quran BEFORE you start studying. By doing this, you’ve distracted yourself from even letting the thoughts of music enter you. Or you may even place your phone in a different room or study in the center of your home among your family members, this way you are blocking yourself from listening to music. Or you may simply delete all the audio and video music files from all your devices: this is the absolute elimination of the trigger, if it’s not present in your phone you’ll be forced to stay away from it.

This step might take time and self vigilance, But it’s a very crucial step.

Action Plan – Target a bad habit, analyze the triggers, discover the most ideal way for you to deal with these triggers.

Habit Replacement

Knowing your triggers is like the prerequisites of transforming your habits. The real deal comes in when its time to replace this habit. This replacement can be gradual, it’s almost impossible to go from blasting music in your car one day and then diligently listening to the Quran the next. Gradualism is the key when replacing a habit. Begin by playing rhythmic nasheeds, and then gradually move on to lesser rhythmic nasheeds and gradually start listening to Quran, finally eliminating the Satanic habit of listening to music.

Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. This is because the habits that we repeat on a regular basis are literally etched with our neural pathways. Neuroplasticity is simply your brain’s ability to grow and restructure its neural pathways. Your neural pathways will take time to get used to a different activity, that’s why it’s important to give it time.

If everything fails, the next time you’re studying for long hours or are in silence, immediately start playing music free nasheeds/Quran (replace the habit), don’t let the trigger settle in, just replace it quickly.

Action Plan – Know which habit you’re going to replace your bad habit with, plan the gradual steps towards attaining the final good habit.

Watch Your Brain Rewire The Reward

Let’s be honest, the bad habits that we stick to, all end in a sense of pleasure and a release of dopamine from your brain. The reward your brain sends to you after completing the routine (the habit itself) is what keeps you looping in the cycle. This is why gradually shifting from your bad habit to a good habit is important. The efforts you put into not listening to music will itself develop a sense of achievement and gradually a sense of pleasure.

Action Plan – Take it day by day, make realistic and gradual steps.

The Ups And Downs

There are days when you mess up and are not able to manipulate or ignore your triggers. And this is okay, there is no need to set up a harsh punishment for yourself. Remember to take it day by day. Don’t speed up your transition, if it takes 4 months or 6 months or even 1 year to move from very rhythmic nasheeds to lesser rhythmic nasheeds, then be it so. Allah is vigilant of your efforts and He will reward you for every single effort you put into transforming yourself in sha Allah. What really matters is your sincere intention and determination to change your bad habit into a good one. Everyone can sin, and Allah is the Best of Forgivers.


Duhigg, C. (2018, July 08). The Golden Rule of Habit Change. Retrieved from

How we form habits, change existing ones. (2014, August 08). Retrieved from

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