Posted by: Dawud Israel | April 27, 2011

Tool for Ibada Motivation: Effort Expenditure Equivalences and Comparisons

One of the things about human psychology is we assign differing proportions of energy/effort/time to certain tasks. Often, we think of something larger or harder than it actually is. So I realized that its helpful to combat shaytan’s tricks by considering the equivalences and comparisons: when is the amount of effort exerted in one task equal to that effort expended in a different task and when is it not equal, how great then is that difference?

This has to do with the fact most amounts of effort are marginal, so minimal in fact, that its hard to honestly say it takes a huge amount of difference in energy. It doesn’t. It is more akin to the difference between 0.1 and 0.09 than it is the difference between 1 and 50. Perhaps, this is why Islam is so easy and why people unnecessarily try to make it harder than it is- to make it more grande in their minds. I think that also puts in perspective, why, the dunya is a lowly things- because we really don’t expend that much energy in it. That also begs the question as to, “What then is real sacrifice? What is real himmah?” Something to think about.

Unfortunately, we have a world of inspiration for Islam available to us, and yet we often still lack motivation. This is what I hope to remedy. One measure of eman is the easiness and lack of hesitation in performing acts of worship- so I wanted to discuss these energy equivalences/comparisons to break that mental barrier many Muslims have and show how transparent that veil actually is. I hope this provides a useful heuristic or rule of thumb in shattering the cognitive biases that occurs with religious practices.

Here are a few cognitive biases that occur in ibada. Think about this and help me out here.


It takes more effort to delay the prayer than to simply go and pray it. This is because you are continually reminding yourself many times about it, sense of urgency and the more you delay the harder it feels so that when you pray it feels like 10 prayers, not 1, at least until you are finished the prayer.
It takes almost the same amount of effort to pray your sunnahs in the masjid as it does at home, and it has a greater reward at home though.
It takes as much effort to pray a fardh as it does to pray a sunnah and they are far different in reward.
It takes as much effort to pray the prayers you find easy as it does to pray the ones you find hard.
It takes as much effort to pray janaza as it does to pray a forgetful (qa’da) prayer.
It takes more effort for someone to walk their dog than it does to go and pray in the masjid.
Don’t tell yourself you’ll wake up for Fajr, tell yourself you’ll wake up in less than x-amount of hours.
It takes as much effort to memorize 5-6 ayat as it does to recite a medium-sized surah like Surah Kahf.


It takes less effort to stop eating (eating less) during a meal than it does to keep eating.
It takes as much effort to fast as it does to forget you are hungry.
It takes as much effort to make tea as it does to make lunch.
It takes as much effort to pay for somebody elses meal as it does to pay for your own.
It takes as much effort to eat with a friend from the same plate as it does to eat on your own- and yet the reward is greater in the latter.
It takes more effort for yogis to perform ascetic stunts of endurance (holding their hands up in the air for 10 years, or staying standing for 10 years, etc.) than it does to fast as a Muslim.
It takes as much effort for a Christian to attend mass as it does for a Muslim to attend Jumaa.
It takes more effort to close your heart to religion than it does to just open it up.

Social Interaction

It takes more effort to avoid saying hello/salam to someone than it does to simply say salam.
It takes as much effort to say salaam to an enemy or someone you particularly dislike as it does to say salam excitedly to a friend.
It takes as much effort to talk about Allah and Islam to a Muslim as it does to talk about sports.
It takes more stress to say “no” and dissuade someone than to simply say yes, or agree to some extent.
It takes as much effort to make dhikr as you walk as it does to talk to someone on the phone as you walk.
It takes more effort to get angry than it does to stay calm.
It takes more effort to stay angry than to just let go.
It takes the same amount of energy to restrain your anger as it does to apologize for letting it out. But what you had said perhaps in anger is harder to erase because its bigger than the apology.
It is as easy to forgive and forget as it is to get bored.


This is just a short sample of some common situations that come to mind, but the list obviously can be much bigger and more varied. Hopefully, by now you have understood the nature of this tool and can now apply it to many other situations and scenarios. I hope this helps give some perspective into the intersection of the vulnerability of the human mind and shaytan, the weak-spots in our psychology and their relevance to our religious practice.

The following are some guiding principles in understanding how this tool works: It takes as much stress to fail as it does to succeed. It takes more energy to hesitate than it does to go at it. The time we spend mulling over it, and the stress that comes about from it, is not symptomatic of the act we are mulling over, rather it is symptomatic of our decision-making skills- in other words, if I am stressing over delaying a prayer, its not that there is more stress in praying it, but the stress lies in my weakness in deciding to go, when I know I must pray it sooner or later.

When we purify our intention (niyya) we become spiritually aggressive and adventurous, then it becomes easier and easier until the effect of these cognitive biases are minimized. But pure intention is all about letting yourself be affected by God, opening yourself up and that means minimizing thoughts. So in short, sincerity is all about listening to your heart first and then again listening to your heart as it listens to God. And the best way to go about that is to be in righteous company, so your decision-making burden is minimized and distributed amongt others- thats why praying in congregation in the masjid feels 5 time lighter than praying at home.

Subhana kallahumma ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. <3'ed it!

    JazakAllah Khayr for sharing! đŸ™‚

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