Archive for October, 2012

Criticism and Praise are the Same

Bismilllah walhamdulillah

By Scott Young

If you do anything unique, people will attack you for it. Self-motivation depends on having a thick skin, persisting in spite of criticism. But equally important is the ability to not let praise consume you, either. Because, praise and criticism are just reflections of each other.

In order to properly handle criticism, you also need to properly handle praise. If someone excessively flatters you for a minor success, you need to internalize it the same way you would internalize a scathing insult. The person that is easily flattered is also easily criticized.

Ultimately, only you can steer your life. If you allow yourself to be misled by attacks or flattery, you won’t reach your destination.

The Problem with Praise

If someone congratulates you, by all means, thank them. Enjoy the fruits of your success. But if you fully embrace every piece of praise you receive, you open yourself to becoming overconfident. Additionally, since praise and criticism are equal partners, when you accept all praise without a thought, you expose yourself to criticism.

A friend of mine was also involved with the same new venture competitions I was this year. His team had a tremendous success at their first competition and he fully absorbed the praise that went with it. He was extremely confident and happy in his team’s success.

However, at a later competition, when his team did not perform as well, he was crushed. I feel his unguarded acceptance of all praise in the first victory is what opened him to deeper criticism later.

Internalizing praise can lower your motivation to work hard just as much as criticism. While some minor critiques encourage improvement, excessive flattery promotes laziness. Instead of working hard to constantly improve, it is just easier to rest and enjoy the congratulations of people around you.

Stop Caring What Other People Think of You

The solution, both to prevent the excesses of praise and the humiliation of criticism, is to stop caring what other people think of you. Take what is actionable from their feedback and ignore the rest. Since you are the sole captain of your life, don’t allow others to steer the ship.

If I write an article, I generally receive a mix of positive comments and negative comments. For criticism, I seek out any actionable suggestions from their comments. If someone notes that I made a grammatical mistake in an article, I’ll happily correct it. Or, if someone feels the logic of my argument was weak, I can make efforts to correct it in a future discussion of the topic.

For praise, I take a similar approach. I thank the person for their comment, and see if there is anything actionable from their suggestion. If several people enjoyed a topic, I’ll know it is something readers are interested in and worth discussing again.

What I strive not to do, with both praise and criticism, is to let it get under my skin. If someone writes an attack on my writing, I’ll remind myself that this comment is just a small pebble on my course, and not to allow it to derail me. Similarly, if I get a piece of praise, I’ll remind myself that this is just one view, and not to let it distract me from the bigger goal.

Start Caring What You Think of Yourself

Far more important than praise or criticism is what you think of yourself. I don’t care if I’m receiving thousands of words of praise or attacks, if I know that what I’m doing doesn’t reflect my true goals or values, I won’t be happy. Start caring what you think of yourself, because you are the one that has to look in the mirror each day.

In running this business, I need to constantly ask myself whether what I’m doing is aligned with my goals. Do my daily actions reflect my short and long-term goals for the website? Am I writing content that delivers deeper value, or is it just self-help infocrack that gains popularity but provides no substance?

Praise and criticism can’t answer those questions, only you can. Which is why you need to listen to yourself above everyone else.

Listening to yourself first isn’t arrogant. You are the only person that intimately understands your goals and values. You are the one who set the goals in the first place. So, how can you expect other people, with different motives, to give you the ideal feedback to move forward?

Other people can offer great advice. But the emotional impact of praise and criticism should come from yourself. Other people can offer actionable suggestions, but they can’t be the judge of your self-worth.

Humble Confidence

The ideal state of mind is humble confidence. You are humble, because you accept all feedback, searching for actionable suggestions, open to any opportunity. You are confident because you won’t allow emotional praise or criticism to distract you from your goals.

In practice, it is impossible to maintain this state perfectly. I’m human like everyone else, so when I am insulted, I’ll feel bad about that. When I’m praised, I’ll feel happy. Those instincts won’t go away.

However, if you accept those first impressions, but don’t let them gnaw at your conscious self-image, you’ve succeeded. You can feel hurt from an insult, but you can evaluate the attack afterward and prevent it from wounding you. This is similar to the Stoic idea that nothing is good or bad, except in the mind. You may be forced to have a first impression from criticism or flattery, but you can then re-evaluate that so it doesn’t distract you from your goals.

If people praise you, thank them and focus on your goal. If people criticize you, thank them and focus on your goal. Because, in the end, you’re the one who has to judge yourself and live with it.


Disclaimer: Take the good, leave the wrong.

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A Wake Up Call – Br. Amir Muhaddith AKA Loon

Bismillah walhamdulillah

I was blown away by this brother’s manners and sincerity. He is a wonderful example of what a Mu’min is, and watching this talk will make you take a long, hard look at yourself.



Why focus (not effort) is the key to getting stuff done

Bismillah walhamdulillah
By Scott Young

Around the time I started this blog, I was obsessed with habits. The psychology is fascinating and the idea that you could reprogram your behavior was compelling. After all, how much could you accomplish if you never failed to act on what you planned?

The science of behavior change makes it exciting too: operant and classical conditioning, trigger patterns and variable reinforcement. It turns the seemingly dull task of building good habits into an exotic discipline.

During that time, I got pretty good at it too. Exercising regularly, reading a book a day, cutting out television. I saw we were all robots, operating on unseen patterns. My only difference is someone had shown me the control switch.

Looking back now, in spite of the fanciness of the psychological tricks, I think I neglected the power of what may have been the most important rule: never more than one habit at a time.

Focus is an underestimated resource. What’s more, unlike willpower or motivation, which can be fickle to summon, focus can be created easily.

Stop Doing So Much Stuff

Being more focused is easy: stop having so many goals.

Sometimes I’ll get emails from students who are in a double major, active in sports, chair in student government, volunteering, and desperately trying to prevent from burning out. Then they go on to ask me how they can focus more in their studies.

The problem is that their life is the antithesis of focus. Part of the blame comes from the belief that being “well-rounded” is essential on resumes, so they fill their time with draining activities. (For an excellent critique of this strategy, read Cal Newport’s fantastic book:

It’s obvious that the stress would disappear if these students decided to drop most these small goals and focus on only one or two big ones. What’s less obvious, but also likely, is that by harnessing focus in one or two goals, their accomplishment would go up enough that it would more than compensate for the other gaps.

Focus is a philosophy, not a resource. You can be focused by choice, just by choosing to have fewer goals to work on.

The Hardest Year in My Life (a Case Study in Focus)

As an example of the power of focus, I want to contrast two years in my life. One where I burned out and felt enormous stress, and the other where I felt almost none and I was generally pretty relaxed.

The difficult year was in college. Like the hypothetical student I discussed, I severely lacked focus. I had two positions in student government, full classes, and a demanding schedule of competitions. Not to mention trying to sustain this blog which would eventually become my full-time business.

I was so burned out by the end that I left the country for the year, with little to show other than aches from my misadventure.

The year of low stress and relaxation? This past year, doing the MIT Challenge.

To an outsider, last year seemed a lot more difficult. After all, trying to learn the content of a 4-year science degree from a tough school seems far more difficult than trying to balance a few student council positions while taking a couple business classes.

The difference was focus. The total difficulty of my hardest year was aggressively compounded by the fact there was so many different goals. The MIT Challenge was more difficult and impressive in isolation, but avoided the temptation of distraction.

Too Much Motivation?

Very few psychological factors are universally positive. The opposite of depression, is not bliss, but mania. Often the two coexist, with those suffering from manic depression experiencing both extremes.

There are those that suffer from too little motivation. Cultivating motivation from apathy is a difficult task, but not an impossible one.

But less frequently to we recognize the opposite problem: too much motivation. Too much enthusiasm leads to starting many projects you’ll never finish. It leads to splitting your focus in the misguided belief that such splits are sustainable.

If the opposite of depression is mania, not happiness, then the opposite of laziness is not productivity, it’s this. The middle ground, where you’re enthused but focused, is the work equivalent to the meditative contentment which is neither depressed nor manic.

My Advice to Get Things Done (Which Most People Won’t Follow)

I’m going to give a piece of advice for getting more work done and actually achieving all those goals you claim to have, but haven’t made much progress on yet. But it’s also a piece of advice I’m guessing most people will ignore, even though it wouldn’t be too hard to implement. Here it is:

Only have one goal at a time.

This doesn’t mean you must devote your life obsessively to only one end. All it means is that if you’re going to have goals at all, put one as the focus and let the others be optional, for a dedicated period of time.

What if you have two goals that are both really important to you? Well then let one be your focus for this month and let the other be your focus for the next.

Having a goal doesn’t mean everything else in your life is completely ignored. I still went to the gym, wrote blog articles, met new people and paid my taxes during the MIT Challenge. The difference was that I knew they weren’t my focus, so my job was only to try to keep them running smoothly.

The temptation to lose focus won’t come from laziness. Laziness may actually be a positive attribute since it discourages you from picking up new goals. The discipline to focus comes from resisting the enthusiasm to try new projects.

The Action Steps to Use this to Get More Done

The action steps to start using this to accomplish more are quite simple:

  1. Decide what is your focus right now. There can only be one.
  2. Commit to keeping it as your focus until a certain time. It might be a deadline for a project, as it was with my challenge, or it might be arbitrary. Focus doesn’t work if it switches too rapidly.
  3. Everything other than your focus, the aim is to keep it running smoothly, but no active self-improvement and absolutely no new voluntary commitments.

If your goal is a small one, make the commitment period shorter. If you have two major goals, flip a coin and commit to the first one for the next month and the second for the month after.

If your project is long-term, make it a focus in the beginning until you think you can continue it successfully with it being a non-focus. My business was a focus for the first few years, but during the MIT Challenge it became a non-focus. That didn’t mean I stopped blogging (indeed, I maintained two blogs during that time), but that I only sustained output.

For many people these action steps won’t be enough. Their existing load of commitments is so vast that they are already overextended. Merely trying to keep all of these activities as non-focuses will still leave them burned out.

If you’re in this situation, phase out your existing commitments over time. Eventually, you can get to a state where you could meaningfully focus on one goal in particular.

To the people who claim that focus is a luxury they can’t afford, why not just try it for one month? Experience tells me that after an experiment, you’ll realize that you can’t afford not to focus.

Source: Scott Young

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Cut the Rope

Points of Benefit:

  • There will be times in your life when you will have to do something very difficult, for the sake of Allah, cut the rope of this dunya – don’t be afraid of what will happen to your dunya – and just do it.
  • There will be times when you are in a hard situation, and you feel like everything is going wrong and you can’t figure out why – cut the rope – do the most difficult thing by putting your complete trust in Allah. And know that, even if you can’t see it, the end result will be best for you.
  • This dunya is tearing away at your soul with every second that passes; this was the blizzard in the video. If he had cut the rope immediately, he would have been saved. If he had delayed it, he would have been damaged, but still saved. And if he never cut the rope, which he didn’t, then he would’ve been damaged beyond repair. Don’t delay it, cut the rope and stop living for the sake of the dunya – place it in your hands and place your deen on your head. If your crown moves out of place, put the dunyah on the ground and fix your crown first.
  • When you’re in the middle of a trial; it feels like things will be this way forever and you can’t see an escape. But sometimes the help is near, it can even be four feet away.

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Teaching Others

 The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

“Allaah and the angels, and even the ant in its nest and the whale in the sea will pray for the one who teaches people good things.”

(Reported by al-Tabaraani from Abu Umaamah; see Saheeh al-Jaami’, 1838)

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The Fruits of Sincerity in Your Knowledge and Time


“…How great are the fruits of sincerity, and how are the Muslims, the righteous, the worshipers who seek Allah and the Hereafter and know the worthlessness of the life of this world in dire need of purifying their actions to be solely for Allah so that they can see these fruits and blessings for themselves, and so that they can see things that nobody would believe could happen within the normal limits of the human perspective!

From these is that the scholars who wrote and sought knowledge sincerely for Allah were granted blessing in their time, lives, and knowledge by Allah, and many people benefited from them.

Take ‘Sahih al-Bukhari’ as an example. How many books have been written and authored? However, the author of this book was sincere towards Allah, and he would not write in it a single hadith except after making ablution and praying two units and making istikharah to Allah, and there was the worship and zuhd that was known in the life of Imam al-Bukhari. When this was the case, Allah blessed him in his time, and He blessed him in his deeds, and He gave this book the position and degree that it has. It is the most authentic book after the Book of Allah, and the Muslims of every era until the Day of Resurrection have accepted it wholeheartedly. This is indeed a great miracle, as how many books have been written that do not have what this book has?

Such is the case with the life of Imam Ahmad, may Allah be Pleased with him and he with Him. Look at the acceptance in the hearts of the people that Allah granted him – it is incredible! When Ahmad would simply point at someone with his finger and said ‘Yes,’ or if he were to mention someone and just say ‘Yes,’ – he praised him by simply saying ‘Yes,’ or ‘He is a good man,’ etc. – Allah would raise the status of that particular man in the eyes of all the Muslims. So, this man would become exalted, and this word of praise would spread from Baghdad to Khurasan to Egypt to Andalusia to everywhere else, and it would be recorded in the books that Ahmad said about such and such a man that he is good or that he praised him. So, this would be a tazkiyah for him and a means for the acceptance of his narrations and knowledge, and a confirmation of the soundness of his beliefs.

And the Khalifah al-Mutawakkil – from his intense keenness to be seen in a good light in front of his people as is the case with the rulers of every era – requested of Imam Ahmad to visit him because the people knew that Imam Ahmad only ate what was halal. So, he wanted him to come and eat from his food so that the people would take note of this and al-Mutawakkil would be praised by the people just because Imam Ahmad ate from his food, even if Ahmad himself did not praise him with a single word!

So, Imam Ahmad refused, and when al-Mutawakkil begged him – and he is al-Mutawakkil, the one through whom Allah revived the Sunnah and destroyed innovation, and Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah are indebted to him, and he is a leader of the Muslims – he saw that he had no other option but to obey him. So, he went to him while he was fasting. His sons ‘Abdullah and Salih said: “We were worried about our father that he would die, as he was continually fasting through the days and nights, and he would only drink water, as water was not something that could be considered a favor from anyone.” All the while, al-Mutawakkil assumed that he was eating from his food because they were not sitting and eating at the same table.

Why did they have this prestige? It was only because of their sincerity towards Allah.

In terms of the blessing in their time, look to the writings of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, the writings of adh-Dhahabi, the writings of Ibn Kathir, and the writings of an-Nawawi. You will see the most amazing things when you see these books despite the expulsion, prison, beating, inquisition, having their books burned, and prevention from any writing instruments that they suffered – especially Ibn Taymiyyah – and that despite this, the preoccupation with worship and Jihad that they displayed. Ibn Taymiyyah performed Jihad against the Batinis and the Tatars. Jihad and knowledge, collecting and researching knowledge from the books, worship, and he is still able to write all these books. How was this possible?!

Today, as you can see – we ask Allah to bless our time and our lives, and to grant us sincerity that will make us deserving of this – a student will spend five years preparing his doctorate, and he will then produce a book that will be nothing more than quotations. If he worked a little harder, he would finish it in a few months, and if he was one of the Salaf, he would have compiled it in a matter of days or weeks, as it is nothing more than quotations. What was all of this time spent doing?

This all has to do with how much sincerity we have. How?

Some even said that if you were to take the lifespan of one of them and divide it between the books that he wrote, you would find that he would write twenty pages a day. Is it possible for anyone to write this much? When would he have the time to check it over? When would he publish it?

If we ask a brother to prepare an article just one page long, he would spend the entire night writing it, and would then spend the entire next day reviewing and revising it. In fact, entire weeks might go by without him producing anything. Subhan Allah!! How did these people write so much? If they were able to write twenty pages that were reviewed, revised, fully and accurately referenced, and filled with precisely derived rulings, this could not have been possible except due to the blessing that Allah had placed in their knowledge, and this was all due to their sincerity to Allah.

This is why they had high determination and aspirations.

When at-Tabari told his students: “I will provide you with the ‘Tafsir’ in 300 volumes,” they said: “This is too long” – three hundred volumes was too long, and they couldn’t handle it – he replied: “Allahu Akbar! The aspirations have weakened!” So, he wrote it in thirty volumes instead of the 300. These thirty volumes were in accordance with the strength of their aspiration, as the vastness of ‘Tafsir at-Tabari’ – with all of its narrations, chains, linguistic commentaries and explanations – was written by at-Tabari for those with weak determination. Today, we say that at-Tabari should have summarized it, and it actually has been summarized, because the aspirations and determination that exists today is only a tenth of what existed during the days of at-Tabari’s students.

This is how it was. So, how does one’s determination become weak?

Determination weakens when there is little sincerity, and it increases when there is more sincerity and certainty. When a person combines the qualities of sincerity, certainty, love, and all the other actions of the heart that I have mentioned and will mention, he will reach the ultimate level of determination.

When the Companions reached this state, they gave no consideration whatsoever to the powers on Earth, no matter who or what they were. Rather, they would send armies to the East and West, land and sea, and they would not care in the least, and they would not look to the enemy as having any worth. Yes, they would make the necessary preparations, study the enemy in as much detail as possible, and engage in strategic research and military intelligence. However, they knew that they were fighting for Allah. So, no power was able to stand before them. They were victorious because of their faith, righteousness, sincerity, and truthfulness with Allah.

There is just one more issue to address that I will close with, and it is that having sincerity results in you being considered from the sincere, and this is because what goes around comes around. So, if you are sincere and truthful with Allah, Allah will make you from the sincere, and the sincere ones are the best of Allah’s Creation. They are the ones who know Allah, and this is the most important of their many characteristics. This is mentioned in ‘as-Saffat’ after Allah mentions the condition of the polytheists and their likes who ascribed a son to Allah and kinship between He and the jinn. So, at the end of these verses, He Said: {“Allah is Glorified above what they ascribe to Him”} [as-Saffat; 159] {“…except the sincere slaves of Allah.”} [as-Saffat; 40].

So, He is free of everything that He is described with with except what those who know Him and give Him His proper due describe Him with, and they describe Him with the attributes of perfection and praise…”

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Be Positive, You Have a Beautiful Heart

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How can I be lonely?




Ibn al-Mubarak rahimahullah was known to leave his study circle immediately after it was completed and go straight home alone. One day, his friends asked him, “Don’t you get lonely?” He replied, “How can I be lonely when I am spending time with the Messenger and His Companions?”

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A MUST-READ for those traveling on the journey of Hifdh…

|-| Fajr |-|

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah

Memorising the Qur’an is not just about memorising the words of Allah `azza wa jall. No. It’s a lot more than that. By understanding the meanings and by making a sincere move to truly live these words, you’ll come to see that it’s actually a magnificent journey…

It’s a journey that takes you through paths you never thought you’d ever tread. A breath-taking trip that will throw you into a sea of knowledge, cast you under the shade of guidance, ascend you to lofty clouds, and bring you back to the harsh realities of life – but as a hakim (wise one). It will take you through paradigm shifts, open your eyes to the unseen and the unheard, it will challenge you, test your limits, break you down and then rebuild you from new.

It will teach you what patience really means, what endurance is, what…

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Who will pray for you when you die? Sh. Tawfique Chowdhury

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