You’ve identified your long-term goals and broken them down into actionable, time-bound short-term goals. You’ve got yourself a week-by-week schedule that comprises short-term goals you will achieve each week. It’s perfect.
And no, I don’t mean minor changes to your plan; calculated flexibility is part-and-parcel of productivity and achieving. Rather, I mean unexpected (or even expected, but miscalculated) events or circumstances that completely turn your plan on its head.
So you don’t achieve anything.
Day after day goes by as you try to assess why you don’t seem to have enough time, tweak your plan, adjust your daily schedule, and console yourself — telling yourself this may just be part of the struggle of adjusting to a new routine and you look forward to the next day as a new chance to get on track.
And you may be right. The problem could be you or your schedule — that you’re struggling with some bad habits or that you’ve taken on too much.
Or, it could really be that you need a whole new plan to suit your circumstances, to accommodate the unexpected changes that have occurred in your life. Perhaps this is something we don’t often realize, something we don’t notice as we’re busy fighting life to fit our plans and exhausting ourselves in the process.
And why are we fighting? Because we want to achieve. We have dreams. We have goals. And we have to realize them. That’s an admirable sense of enthusiasm and drive.
As day after day goes by in vain, you begin to feel overwhelmed because of the abstract burden of ‘so much to do/catch up on’ weighing down on your shoulders. You’re frustrated. You’re demoralized. You don’t even manage well what life has thrown at you because you’re angry with it. Eventually, the enthusiasm and drive dies down. You lose, yet again.
We plan and Allah plans, and Allah is the best of Planners.
While you’ve planned your life out, know that Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) also has a plan for you — and not just any plan, but the best one.
So in times like these — where you planned everything out, set the right intentions, made dua, and were determined to achieve but everything went haywire, rather than despairing, you need to step back and re-assess what’s happening.
1. Check your sincerity.
Are you striving to achieve your plan with sincerity of intention, resolve, and action?¹
If not, then you need to revisit and rectify that and try again.
If yes, then take a deep breath, accept that your plan cannot run as expected (for now), and that Allah has a different plan for you.
2. Pray istikharah. Make dua. Reflect.
Turn back to Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala). Seek His counsel. Pray istikharah and make continuous dua that He guides your heart and mind to what is best for you, that He enables you to see the bigger picture, and most importantly, that He enables you to act upon His plan in the best way possible.
Be vigilant of the changes that are occurring. Reflect upon them.
Is there a deeper meaning to all this? Is this forced shuffling of your priorities going to teach you something greater? Is it going to bring out something even greater than what you’d planned?
3. Change your perspective.
You need to consciously work on your thoughts to look at the unexpected changes differently. Bi’idhnillah, your sincerity, istikharah, dua, and reflection will help you with this.
Re-set your intentions for dealing with these changes. Dig out opportunities that await you in them and capitalize on them. You may, in fact, even realize that the qualities this experience is nurturing within you are fundamental to achieving your initial plan.
Insha’Allah, by now, you will start to develop a sense of appreciation for the change.
4. Re-plan. Be creative. Be flexible.
Now taking into consideration the circumstances that have developed or changes that took place after your initial plan, go back to your short-term goals and revise them. Check goals that you need to put on hold for this period or even lower the priority of indefinitely. Add goals you’ve been guided to through this experience — goals you may not have thought of earlier or considered a priority. Re-plan your weekly schedule. Be creative with your planning.
I recently had this experience that taught me to deal with such changes as explained above. I had it all planned out — a clear weekly program one could act upon immediately. Then — due to a combination of circumstances and some miscalculations — it was all taken away just like a paper unexpectedly yanked out of your hands.
1. Checking my sincerity
It left me bewildered, scratching my head, revisiting my intentions and my plan, tweaking it, and attempting it again. But the unexpected changes had engulfed me so much that I barely had time to retreat to my room for other than sleep. I felt overwhelmed because of the heavy weight on my heart as a result of not progressing with my plan and everything I was ‘losing out’ on. I’d been wanting to achieve these goals for ages. I was annoyed and no doubt beginning to despair.
2. Istikharah. Dua. Reflection.
So I had to resign to my new circumstances. I was advised to pray istikharah, make dua, and to “be open to Allah’s plan”.
3. Changing my perspective
And with time, subhanAllah, the greatness of His plan started to unveil — almost like a parochial view now widening. I started to see how the current experience was training me to grow in areas I had intended to but hadn’t prioritized or consciously planned. It had me working on developing qualities that are essential tools for my journey ahead. While I had planned out mostly tangible stuff — acquiring knowledge, exercising, writing, etc., this experience threw me into the deep-end of exercising the intangible, internal qualities. The only choices were to either learn to swim or drown.
I re-set my intentions based on this new perspective. I focused on the rewards I could reap from my circumstances simply by attaching my actions to sincere intentions, such as for serving the guests staying over, for helping my mother, for bringing ease to another’s life in time of need. These are just a few of the many opportunities this new plan had laid out for me. It was training me to be positive, patient, flexible, and creative. It was teaching me new skills. And most importantly, in the bigger picture, it was bringing me closer to Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala).
In essence, it was training me to be ready for embracing and balancing life rather than fighting it during my journey towards my dreams — to maintain the two as currents flowing in the same direction, each bolstered by the other.
So I re-planned. I went back to my short-term goals and changed them. Knowing this period of ‘new circumstances’ is a temporary one in my case, I adjusted my short-term goals for this period. As I wasn’t physically able to have ‘me time’, I decided to focus on having mental and spiritual ‘me time’. That meant even if I’m pre-occupied by those around me, I had control over what I choose to think of, how I choose to behave, the words I choose to utter. I allowed this focus on the ‘intangible’ that was thrust upon me to be reflected onto my short-terms goals. So I included goals I could work on, such as attaching every action to a noble intention, talking to Allah more often to help me be more conscious of Him, making dhikr, focusing on only using positive words, putting down a plan to deal with externally negative situations that occur, etc.
Yes, I definitely had goals in my initial plan that had deadlines I didn’t choose — such as coursework and impending exams. However, thinking through the plan, I realized I will, insha’Allah, have a window of time before the exams to focus on the coursework. Now this could be considered either as: a) cramming it all into a few days or b) making the best of the situation so that you don’t compromise that goal owing to a temporary change (and life has lots of them). So it’s a matter of never completing those courses or doing so but not with the most ideal schedule. The right decision for you depends entirely on your personal situation. Your role is to set your intentions, make sincere dua and istikharah, and Allah will guide you to what’s best for you. And remember, keep asking Him for barakah!
Another very important lesson I learned that this approach freed me from the grips of feeling overwhelmed. When I had my initial plan down and saw each week go by without having accomplished a single goal, I’d grow tense and feel overwhelmed — perhaps subconsciously feeling like I have so much to catch up on. However, having such ‘backup plans’ not only makes one more flexible, but also allows you to make the most of the change and actually feel like an achiever.
For the sake of clarity, there are two important disclaimers I must add:
- My ride through this wasn’t a cakewalk. It didn’t go all sweet and smooth as it sounds written down. To the contrary, it was and is an experience of continuous trial-and-error.
- Not achieving your plan or a change in circumstances in and of itself isn’t a license to throw yourself off your plan or give up altogether. That’s why stepping back to re-assess with a clear mind what’s happening is critical. Dissect the situation and look deep into your heart to find the root cause behind it all. With dua and istikharah, carve out a way forward.
 Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
A person can have nothing more beneficial than sincerity towards his Lord in all his affairs, along with sincerity of resolve, so he should be sincere towards Him in his resolve and in his actions. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And when the matter (preparation for Jihaad) is resolved on, then if they had been true to Allaah, it would have been better for them” [Muhammad 47:21]. So his happiness lies in sincerity of resolve and sincerity of action. Sincerity of resolve means certain desire to do an action and not hesitating to do it. If his resolve is sincere, all that is left is sincerity of action, which is doing one’s best and striving one’s utmost when doing it, and not letting anything, outward or inward, hold him back from it. Resolve of purpose prevents him from becoming weak-willed and sincerity of action prevents him from becoming lazy or lethargic. If a person is sincere towards Allah in all his affairs, Allah will give him more than He gives to others, and this sincerity results from true love of Allah and true trust in Him. So the most sincere of people is the one who is loves Allah most and puts most trust in Him. [Al-Fawaa’id, p. 186, 187]