Islamic Character Seeking Knowledge Spiritual Purification

Well-Formed Goals Huda Shaka

Whether it’s losing weight, quitting smoking, or memorizing Qur’an, I have recently learnt that developing a “well-formed goal” is half way towards achieving it1 .  Not only that, the remaining half becomes easy and even enjoyable.

Too good to be true?  Try it out for yourself.

Below is a checklist describing a well-formed goal.  Think about an important (or even not so important) goal you want to achieve and invest some time in phrasing it according to the checklist below, then watch and see what happens.

A well-formed goal:

1. Is positive and phrased in the present

A well-formed goal is one which is worded positively; it does not include “don’t” or “without” or “stop”.  For example, “I’m not lazy anymore” is not a goal phrased in the positive; “I am efficient” is.

A well-formed goal is also one that is phrased in the present.  Instead of saying “I will finish my assignment” try “I finish my assignment” or “I am finishing my assignment”.

2. Is initiated and maintained by you

A well-formed goal is one that can be initiated and maintained by you.  In other words, it is one that is not dependent on other people acting in a particular way.  This is because, while we may be able to influence other people, we cannot really make them do anything.

So, rather than setting a goal for how you want your spouse to treat you, develop a goal on how you want to treat your spouse to encourage them to treat you in a certain way.

3. Is defined in sensory language

What will it look/feel/sound like to achieve your goal?  What will others see/feel/hear when you achieve your goal?  Include that in your goal.

For example: I am a non smoker; my lungs feel fresh and I have an extra $200 to spend on myself.

4. Takes into consideration the positive by-products of the current situation

What advantages does your current context/situation have?

For not memorizing Qur’an:

  • I have time to read other topics;
  • I’m relaxed because I don’t feel like I’m always getting ready for an exam;
  • I have more time to spend with my family.

Now let’s take all of these positive by-products and include them in the goal:

I am memorizing Qur’an and have time to read other books and spend time with family, and I feel relaxed and in control.

5. Is conscious of ‘ecology’

Ecology here is meant to indicate context, the context in which we exist and with which we interact.  In other words, ‘ecology’ is the social system in which we live, which is influenced by us and which influences us.

This is similar to items 3 and 4, and is very important to remember.

When you achieve your goal, what kind of things might you lose out on?  Who might you annoy?  Who might you make jealous?

Go back to your goal and add to it a description of the ‘ecology’:

I am efficient whilst spending time with my family and relaxing appropriately.  My friends support and encourage me.

Note that “my friends support and encourage me” is not actually part of the goal, but a supporting phrase to relieve your anxieties.  As such, this part does not have to be maintained by you (in reference to point no. 2 above).

Let us go through a final example to illustrate the five steps.  Starting with “I do not want to disrespect my parents”, below is how the goal can be reworded based on the five steps:

I do not want to disrespect my parents

  • I respect my parents (Steps 1 and 2)
  • I respect my parents, and I am happy when I interact with them (Step 3)
  • I respect my parents, and I am happy when I interact with them.  I have my space and feel in control of my life (Step 4)
  • I respect my parents, and I am happy when I interact with them.  I have my space and feel in control of my life.  My classmates encourage me to respect my parents well. (Step 5)

By the time you are done with the above five criteria, your short and sweet goal may end up being a few paragraphs.  That is perfectly fine; write down that long and winding goal and keep going back to it.  You may even want to break it down into a number of shorter goals, especially if you realize that you actually want more than one thing.   Most importantly, once you’ve written your goals, enjoy the journey of achieving them.

Huda Shaka is Sustainability Consultant based in the UAE.  She is involved in a number of da`wah (outreach) projects and enjoys reading and tweeting. This article was inspired by tazkiyah (spiritual purification) concepts taught at


  1. I learnt this as part of the Whims-I-Kill program on []

About the author

Guest Authors

Guest Authors

As a virtual mosque, we strive to provide a safe space for learning and discussion. We would like to invite our readers to join this process. Everyone has a reflection to share, expertise on a specific topic, or a new idea. We hope, by opening up submissions from guest authors, that we can highlight the work of new, talented writers in our virtual community.


  • Asak Sister,

    A very well written article indeed..:)..I had a question that was lingering in my mind for a long tym..The issue goes as follows :

    I have often heard people saying that ”If we imagine that at the end of the day,we are going to be happy ,we will be happy”..Similarly, if we imagine that at the end of the year we will be successful,we will be successful..I have personally tried that with quite a lot of success..

    But the danger that I feel with this is that I start banking upon my “Imagination” , whereas I shud bank upon Allah for everything,and I fear that this may be a form of Shirk..This may be a silly question,but I really want an answer..

    Thanks a lot..:)

  • Salamu Alaykom,

    Perfect timing !

    With Ramadan so close, now is the time to aspire and setup our goals. May Allah grant us the privilege of another Ramadan and insha Allah the ummah is revived once again.

    Jazakillah !

  • @ hanzla

    the reason you have been successful was not because of thinking about success or happyness ; but it is because you focused your mind on it.

    As a human we tend to forget , so thinking regulary about positive things will help attaining it. Allah is the reason why u remembered urself why u think again and again about ur goal.

    Thinking positvly is nothing new to humanity. In fact is it a weapon used by every nation to motivate ppl. There are hadith and ayat who speak about being realistic and positive-minded

    in fact thinking negatively will lead to commiting sins also kufr.

    Ps. The above-mentioned techniques are not proven. It is not proven that well formed goals in the mind lead the way to a thinking process that will help to acheive the goal. Even if popular books promoting it.
    As muslims u should be a lil bit more careful for what u r promoting to the muslims. Im a personal n Business coach but i will give you the saying that Iman Ghazali and Ibn Qayyim r more powerful than medicine itself.

    Maybe the muslims should stop being ignorant towards ilm ul nafs and what a ibn arabi can offer with a Allah guided faham

  • A nice article, but I think that it is lacking anything related to trust and confidence in Allah and Allah’s guidance. If we strive to do something that is halal, inshAllah Allah will give it to us if it is good for us.

  • […] never to do the sin again: In Huda’s article about well-formed goals, she gives us ways to help achieve our goals. Only use positive language and use the present tense. […]

  • Assalamu’alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu khayr for all the wonderful articles posted on the suhaibwebb. I am currently a final year student. InsyaAllah will be finishing my chemical engineering degree in 3 months time. However, I have a habit of procrastinate in doing my assignments/project since i’m taking this degree. As a final year students i ‘ve been given 3 different projects (for 3 differents subjects) where, the time management and own effort is crucial in completing these projects. What made me lazy in completing the projects on time is because all of the projects require me to recall/implement all the knowledge/ equations that I used to learn during the first, 2nd and third year which i don’t like at all. Besides that, I have problem in memorizing. Sometimes, once I read one technical paper, I’ll face problem of only remembering less than 10% of the content. I did prayers, recite al-qur’an & good deeds. But I can’t relate how these good deeds could help in my study. In addition, I like to read islamic articles/websites, but I don’t like to read chemistry-related books. I am asking the opinion,how do I fight my laziness, how to do time management, how to have drive in putting my effort to start the projects, to increase my memorizing capability, and lastly, how do I finish these 3 projects within 3 months time. I hope that u could relate also any qur’anic verses or any Prophet (pbuh) words that are related to this situation. Jazak Allahu khayr. 🙂

Leave a Comment