Overcoming bad habits and giving up futile pleasures
We live in the age of smartphones, busy lives, lots of money, fast food, consumerism, a culture, where you can ‘Just do it’. It’s not surprising that we have become self-loving, pleasure-seeking, selfie admirers. This is reflected in our behaviours; challenging traditional manners like listening to parents and the elderly, obeying authority, building relationships with family and friends, being loyal to each other and being willing to make sacrifices for others. It’s an age of egoism, vanity and arrogance. The culture of giving up your needs for the sake of others is over, as we become increasingly self-centred and selfish braggarts. So, how are we to overcome our ego? The Quran presents effective policies and procedures to tackle this.
What are the ways of controlling your passions, inhibiting your lust, monitoring your pleasures and even rejecting benign desires? Without the controls and balances it sounds like this; ‘I want that designer jacket, I hate him, I wish I had more than her, I want the best car’. The tendency to seek worldly pleasures and things that make us feel good is in every one of us.
The Majestic Quran calls this tendency “Nafs Ammara” the over-commanding self, or an ego that is ‘commanding over’ you, it has full control of your thoughts, likes and dislikes, and compels you to carry them out. Consequently, you fail to make, moral and spiritual decisions. This is the ego, which is unaware of the Lord, forgetful of faith and in fact resistant to beauty and goodness. Even the most perfect human beings like the handsome Prophet Yusuf professed, “The human ego is constantly commanding one to do the evil, if it wasn’t for my Lord’s protection and kindness, I would have succumbed” [Yusuf: 53].
The best way to avoid succumbing to the ego is to develop a self-critical attitude towards our relationship with worldly things and people. The Quran teaches “I swear by the self-critical soul” [Al-Qiyamah:2]. This is the inner voice that must be developed to avoid the excesses of our ego. The ego is not a fixed personality trait but is in flux, it is made worse by our hunger for worldly things, the kind of company we keep, the sort of social media we consume and the entertainment we indulge in. There are good reasons to work on controlling your ego, if left to its devices it will worsen and make a fool of you, with crazes of all kinds, that would lead to compulsive disorders like shopping, voyeurism, pride, extravagance and eventually mental problems.
The Quran provides tools to overcome it, here are three ways to civilise the ego:
- Control your senses:
Ideas come from what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. So, be careful what you see, hear, and touch, this is where it all begins. So, the first step is to learn where your desires, lusts and longings come from. Perhaps it was what you saw on Instagram or Netflix or what a friend said. Now you must decide whether watching that video or that channel is wise, put an end to negative thoughts. It isn’t easy to correct these bad habits. Neither can this happen overnight but by constantly challenging and countering them you can change. The Quran says, “Allah doesn’t change people until they change themselves.” An example is you have ten pairs of shoes already, but you want to buy another pair. The question is why do I want them? Do I really need them?
- Embrace simplicity
We are learning to become self-critical so that we can control our ego and do away with extravagant lifestyles. By being hard on yourself, you are saving yourself a lot of trouble, money and time. Therefore, stop chasing after material goods. Simplifying your life could mean, avoiding using credit cards instead buy with cash, or cancelling your cable or satellite contract. Cut monthly bills like your unused gym membership, why not just walk and enjoy the country parks and nature walks? Stop regularly eating out. Simplicity is to ‘identify the essential and eliminate the rest.’ Make the best use of things you already have. Someone wisely said, “if it doesn’t add to your life, it doesn’t belong in your life.” So, truly embrace this philosophy and you will get peace of mind. As you let go of more and more You will achieve Spiritual rising.
- Keep the company of good people
The Quran instructs the Messenger (peace be upon him): “Keep yourself with those who worship their Lord morning and evening and deeply long for His pleasure. Do not turn your eyes away from them, to seek the delights of worldly life. Neither follow him whose mind is forgetful of our remembrance and follows his whims, his case is beyond limits” (Al-Kahf: 28). We have lots of friends, but only a few are going to stick around and actually care for us. Do you think the 976 contacts on your smartphone are your real friends? Or the 1000 contacts on Facebook? According to some research the optimum number of friends we can reasonably serve, please and be close to is about 15. So, it isn’t the friends you can count that matter but friends who you can count on. A friend is the one who encourages you to pray, be patient, takes you to events to learn, goes on walks with you and urges you to reflect on the purpose of your life.