A man once complained to the Prophet ﷺ (peace and blessings be upon him) that he had a hard heart. The Prophet ﷺ replied, “If you want your heart to soften, (affectionately) rub the orphan’s head (with your hand) and feed the needy.” [narrated by Ibn Abi Dunya]
For the entire week, you were waiting for the weekend. You desperately needed to sort your life out. I mean things were getting ridiculous. Not only were you really far behind on your lectures and assignments but you still hadn’t cleaned your room and that book you needed to buy? Well that’s going to have to wait. Oh and let’s not forget that you still needed to renew your Oyster Card, pay your tuition fees, pay back the money you owe your friend, sort out plans for going out this Wednesday, clean your car, memorize a page of the Qur’an, organize a dinner for this Friday, go shopping for some new clothes and erm…*scratches head*…did I mention that you desperately needed to sort your life out?
You tried to reassure yourself by saying that this weekend would make all your worries disappear, but you and I both know that’s not going to happen. In fact, we are now on the last day of “this weekend” and I am willing to bet my £5000 overdraft on the fact that nothing has changed. Actually, scrap that. Things are probably worse, aren’t they? Because not only did you manage to achieve absolutely NOTHING this weekend, but a whole new list of tasks have reared their ugly heads, screaming for your attention and begging to be dealt with.
So what should you do? Well, let’s take your room. Ideally it should be completely clean, but that objective hasn’t got you anywhere – so how about just focusing on getting cleaner, like picking up your clothes off the floor? Or your lectures – Going over two weeks worth of lectures is nigh on impossible at the moment, but flicking through just one lecture shouldn’t take long at all! What about memorizing the Qur’an? A page a day is a bit much, so how about just three verses a day?
The point with each of these examples is that you are focusing on getting better, not necessarily on achieving the best – and as long as you do that, you are more likely to achieve what you want then if you had tried to do everything in one go. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen the latter work is in movies. Real life teaches us to take small steps if we want to go anywhere. That’s why we learn to turn over before we can learn to crawl and why we learn to crawl before we can learn to walk (I think some of us have yet to master this last step). Trying to jump from A to Z in one step is impossible and you know that, which is why your room is still unclean, your lectures remain untouched and your Qur’an is nowhere to be seen.
This is exactly what the Prophet ﷺ highlighted in the hadith (report of the words of the Prophet ﷺ) above. It would have been all too easy to tell someone, eager to become a better person, to do a million things in order to achieve that noble goal. But that would have only caused them to sit on their hands, daunted by the number of obstacles that they must now overcome. Instead he ﷺ gave the man just two tasks to do, tasks that were both simple and that could be done straight away. That doesn’t mean that by doing those two things, the man would have a soft heart, but it would “soften” and as long as he continued to take small steps in the right direction, not only will he be motivated to continue his journey but he’ll be well on his way to actually reaching his desired destination. As someone once said: A journey of a thousand miles really does begin with one step.