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mental health productivity

Is the technology you are using extending your mind and expanding your abilities? Or is it breaking up your mind and being an obstacle to achieving the best version of you? In other words, are you the master of your devices, or its slave? In part one of this article, I convinced you how social and news media could ruin your life. The goal of this article is to help you regain your life by minimising the exposure to these two forms of media.

Just like the internet, social media is a double-edged sword. If you don’t manage it carefully, you’ll end up cutting yourself easily. The unfortunate reality of social media is that it has more harm than good. It has already destroyed millions of peoples’ minds and lives. Moreover, it is, undoubtedly, an obstacle for most people to achieving taqwa (God-consciousness) and to becoming the best version of themselves.

As I mentioned in my previous article, the overuse of these two forms of media hampers our success in both worlds.

The distractor of your life

For the last two years, I’ve been reading and researching a lot about peak performance. The summary of what I’ve learned is this: Peak performance is only attainable if you genuinely guard your focus on the most important goal. 

However, most people are distracted by insignificant things that drain their focus and energy. For instance, every notification you receive on your smartphone takes away your focus. All those “just checking your smartphone” acts drain your mental energy and focus. The truth is, your smartphone is making you hard to focus on important goals and values in your life.

A recent survey confirms that a large percentage of people use their smartphones for news, music, watching films and engaging in social media. All these activities do a great job of distracting you from achieving your true potential.

Your smartphone is the elephant in the room. There aren’t any simple, quick solutions to solving this severe matter. Hence, I like to provide you with a holistic solution that is also sustainable.

Imagine an onion that has three sets of layers. These layers represent a three-step solution to this burning problem:

  1. The innermost layer of this imaginative onion represents the goals and roles in your life
  2. The middle layer represents your energy
  3. The outermost layer represents your willingness to play offensive with your willpower

If you are looking for a sustainable solution, then you need to work from the innermost layer. Attempts to change your behaviour just based on the outermost layer will not provide you with a lasting change.

The innermost layer: goals and roles in your life

Allah subuhanawuta’la reassurances us in the Quran that there is a purpose behind our creation. He (SWT) says,

Then did you think that We created you uselessly and that to Us you would not be returned? (Muminoon, 115)

Hence, Muslim scholars mention three primary purposes for our creation:

  1. Ibadah (worship) – And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me (Az-Zaariyat: 56)
  2. Khilafah (successive authority) – Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority (Baqrah:30)
  3. ‘imara (to develop this earth) – He brought you forth from the earth and hath made you develop it (Hood: 61)

When these are our purpose of existence, how can we live a life that is void of goals? That is, how can we fulfil these privileged roles that we’ve been given without having meaningful goals?

Goals give you meaning, a sense of purpose, a feeling of control, and an optimistic outlook on life. They get you fired up and out of bed in the morning. When you lack goals, you’re bored and don’t know what to do or how to spend your time meaningfully.

However, the reality is, most people don’t have any particular meaningful goals to work on. They are heedless about the real purpose of this life. So, they are joyfully wasting their time on things that don’t provide them with any meaning to their life. 

People who are serious about their roles and goals in this world would certainly not spend their precious time on things that don’t truly benefit them. On the contrary, they spend all their time and energy, attempting to achieve success in both worlds.

I can provide reams of research to show why quitting social, and news media is perhaps the best thing for you, but that wouldn’t make any difference to you if you aren’t engaged in a meaningful goal or if you aren’t working on a project that is larger than your life.

On the other hand, spending your time on these two media while working on your goals is like filling a leaky bucket with water. Not only you are wasting precious resources, but also you are missing the opportunity to fill the bucket.

A Muslim is someone who has projects and goals to work on to continually improve him or herself. That, in return, helps him achieve real success in this dunya and the akhirah.

That’s not all. It’ll also make you a happy person. In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the world’s leading scientist studying wellbeing, says that happy people have projects and goals:

“In 1932, weighed down by the sorrows and agonies of his self-absorbed and aimless clients, an Australian psychiatrist named W. Béran Wolfe summed up his philosophy like this: ‘If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.’ He was right. People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.”

So, if you want to be truly successful and happy, you better work on your goals. Social and news media are for losers! Or to put it more mildly, it’s for people who don’t have goals yet.

The middle layer: Maintaining energy

Most goal-setting gurus talk extensively about the intricate details of goal setting and the execution of it. That’s important, but there is one more critical thing most people fail to mention. It’s about the importance of maintaining one’s energy to achieve those goals.

When was the last time you completed a task efficiently and productively? Was it when you were tired or when you had a great sleep and felt fully energised?

Based on what I’ve studied so far, I can pretty convincingly say that 90 per cent of our psychology depends on our physiology. Your body’s wellbeing is directly correlated with your mind’s wellbeing.

So, if you want to achieve goals, make sure your mind is healthy. Keeping your body energised is the easiest and fastest way to keep your mind healthy.

The question is, how to energise your body so that you can have a healthy mind and a healthy body?

That’s what I teach people in my Coaching Programme. Maintaining your physical energy depends primarily on three things: sleep, eat and move.

However, that’s not all. You have a soul that needs to be energised as well. Salah (prayer), breathing meditation and many other relaxation techniques help you maintaining your energy.

If you’re a beginner, I would strongly recommend starting to work on your sleep cycle. Sleep is the fountain of energy. If you sleep well, at least 7 hours a day and ideally 8 hours a day, you’ll automatically feel the increased energy in your body.

After sleep comes nutrition. You are what you eat. Therefore, your food choices play a huge role in keeping you energised. Here are three simple rules to follow:

  1. Hydrate: drink at least 2 litres of water daily. 
  2. Eat food that is closed to its original form (e.g. an apple), and
  3. Avoid foods that are far away from its original form and are highly processed (e.g. an apple pie)

Last, but not least is your movement. The simple rule of thumb is move as much as you can. Don’t sit or stand for too long. Ideally, you move at least every 30 minutes for a minute or two. If that is not possible, make sure to move at least two minutes every hour.

The outer layer: Play offensive with your willpower

Most people play defensive with their willpower. They think they can stop things like reading Facebook feeds when they want, or from eating the big chocolate cake in front of them anytime, they feel like.

However, if the history is your guide, you know what a lousy defensive player your willpower is.

Willpower is a finite thing. If you start to use it defensively, you are going to hit the ceiling after a specific time. That’s why it’s essential to play with it offensively.

Part of playing offensively with your willpower is to create a temptation-free environment. (Just as a side note: Most sharia laws are in this category, such as lowering your gaze, wearing hijab)

You might be wondering how do I create a temptation-free environment?

That’s what the rest of the article is all about. These recommendations are tested and tried, and most importantly, there are tons of research to back them up so that they work for you, not against you.

#1: Unplug from your devices regularly

What is out of sight is out of mind. One of the reasons why we use our devices so often is that we always keep them visible and nearby. So, simply keeping it out of sight and out of touch, makes it less attractive. If you want to become the master of your device and not its slave, then this step is essential.

Here is a compelling reason why you should become the master, not the slave of your device.

The American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America survey found “a startling 86% of adults report being constantly or often connected to their electronic devices.”

To detox, the APA recommends finding regular times to completely unplug and stay away from all devices. Doing so, the organisation says, “will lower stress, maintain better mental health, and help break the chronic compulsive behaviour many of us have to constantly check in with their electronic devices–reaching for digital stimulation to fill every free moment of downtime.”

Hence, I strongly recommend you to create periods of device-free time. Here are a few of my own strategies I use daily.  

  • I keep my smartphone out of sight and out of touch. Whether at work or home, my device is both out of sight and out of touch. At work, I keep it in a closet, at home it’s on a shelf, out of my sight.
  • I don’t use my phone for the first two hours of waking up. I want to be creative before I become reactive. I do the most important things first before I switch on my phone.
  • Likewise, two hours before I go to sleep, I switch off my phone. That’s my family time. I don’t want to be distracted with anything else.
  • Whenever I do my deep focused work (such as writing this article), my phone is switched off too.

#2: Delete all the distracting apps on your device

Delete all the distracting apps from your device. I don’t have any social media apps on my device, except WhatsApp, which I use sparingly (all notifications are switched off, and I check it twice a day at predetermined times).

If you have to use any of these social media apps, use it on a larger device (see #4 for more details).

#3: Restrict your screen time

We are different, and we have different needs. While I can entirely abandon social and news media, you may have a different need. So what I advocate is, if you can’t entirely quit them, at least restrict their use. Don’t use them unnecessarily and haphazardly. Use them for self-growth and not for self-destruction.

I consider the newest technology, including the internet and smartphone a blessing. I use them every day to learn, teach and coach people online. However, this blessing can become a curse when we don’t use it appropriately.

Here are a few things you can do to restrict your screen time.

Install Freedom software

How often you had the best of intention to check your Facebook feed for only 5 minutes, then ended up spending 2 hours on it?

As I said, our willpower is a finite thing. It’s not a great companion– it’s mostly elusive when you need it the most. That’s why I’m such a big fan of Freedom software. This software helps you to control your surfing by your predetermined standards.

You can either block the unwanted sites forever on all your devices or restrict the minutes you want to spend on a particular website. It’s one of the best tools I’ve ever bought to decrease my distraction and to increase my productivity.

I have a paid version of it, but most people can survive with a free version too. Here’s the link to Freedom.

Use the Screen Time on your iPhone

Screentime functionality is somewhat similar to Freedom software. You can combine both if you want to restrict your screen time further.

Android Users can install the Digital Wellbeing app for the same purpose.

Breaking the “bottomless surfing” cycle

You may have heard the term “bottomless” surfing, which refers to the endless newsfeed on Facebook or the autoplay on YouTube.

I’m sure; you are familiar with one of these scenarios:

  • You go to your Facebook account to post something, but end up reading the newsfeed for the next 30 minutes.
  • Likewise, you want to watch a 5-minute video on YouTube, but end up watching a video on for 2 hours.

The techno giants such as Facebook and Google wants to keep you hooked to their site and for as long as possible. The longer you’re using their services, the more money they make (e.g., by showing you ads )

Therefore, bottomless surfing is designed to keep you hooked to their services.

The following two chrome extensions can be of great benefit to disabling the newsfeed on Facebook and recommended videos on YouTube.

#4: Surf at predetermined times on a larger screen

If you must use these media, use them at predetermined times. It would help if you decided when you want to use it and how long you want to use it.

Software such as Freedom or Screen time/Digital Wellbeing (as discussed before) will be beneficial for you to do these steps.

If you need to use one of these media, use them on a larger screen, such as on a computer or laptop. Amy Cuddy, a psychologist, mentions fascinating research in her book Presence, how this is advantageous to you.

Scientists brought three different groups into a lab. All three groups received the same assignment but on three different devices. One group was asked to do it on a large desktop computer, the second one on a tablet-sized device and the third group on a smartphone.

And the result? Amy says: “We concluded that the smaller the device, the more we must contract our bodies to use it, and the more time we spend in these shrunken, inward postures, the more powerless we feel.”

Ultimately, this contraction and feeling of powerlessness undermine our productivity and efficiency.

Books and Resources

This article gives you some food for thoughts and should help to kick-start your journey towards a productive life.

If you want to dig deep and truly understand the intricate details of what social media and our hyper-connected devices do to us, I highly recommend you to check these books. They certainly helped me a lot to win at my work and my life, Alhamdulillah!


If you are iPhone user, this guide will be immensely beneficial to you. It details how to configure your iPhone to work for you, not against you.

It’s a long read, but worth it. 

Invest your one and only life wisely

I’ve spent much time writing this article. That’s because I care about you and your life. You are more capable than you think you are. Hence, I invite you to come out of your comfort zone and live up to your fullest potential. Your one and only life is the single capital you possess to succeed in the aakhira (Hereafter), so invest it wisely in this world.

My job as a coach is to help you establish the fundamentals you need to live up to your fullest potential. Working on your fundamentals help you to transform your body so that you can transform your life.

Are you ready to join the transformation?

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