‘Atomic Habits’: How the Ideas of a Modern Day Book Coincide with the Spiritual Quest – Part II


Qasim Choudhary, USA

In Part I of this article, we explored various methods which can be adopted in order to form good lasting habits. Patience, consistency, and identity are key factors in ensuring longevity in our spiritual quest. Let’s now explore how we can break bad habits and why goal setting can be detrimental to our quest. 

How To Break A Bad Habit

Often times it feels that forming bad habits is easier as opposed to creating good ones. Bad habits can quickly amount to a seemingly unconquerable towering mountain. However, the question remains, how can we subjugate our bad habits?

The philosophy of repentance as penned by the Promised Messiah (as) and the four laws for breaking bad habits described in Atomic Habits bear a heavy resemblance. If utilised correctly, these methods can prove effective in breaking bad habits. For instance, a person who is involved in an illicit relationship and desires to repent would employ the following four-pronged approach:

1st Law (Cue): Make it invisible – remove any stimulating factors from your head space and environment.

2nd Law (Craving): Make it unattractive – associate something bad towards the habit which causes a distaste towards it.

3rd Law (Response): Make it difficult – create a distance between yourself and the bad habit. Occupy yourself with other activities that it becomes impossible to consider indulging in anything else.

4th Law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying – we are less likely to repeat a bad habit if it is painful or not pleasurable.

Similarly, the philosophy of repentance would prescribe the following remedy to cure this spiritually crippling behaviour as follows:

  1. Iqla – to abandon one’s evil thoughts and ill fancies. It would be necessary to conceive the other person as ugly and call to mind all their ignoble qualities. One’s thoughts and ideas bear a heavy influence. Viewing the other person in this light would create an aversion towards them.
  2. Nadm – to feel regret and remorse. Realizing that the pleasures he indulges in are temporary can create a sense of shamefulness and bring a stop to one’s bad deeds.
  3. Azm – to make a firm resolve to never revert to these vices in the future. [1]

It is astonishing to see the similarities between both of these philosophies presented in different eras. Expounded over a century ago, the wisdom imparted to us by the Promised Messiah (as) remains relevant and ground-breaking even today.

The Four Problems with Goals

According to James Clear, there are four fundamental problems with goals. Firstly, winners and losers both have the same goals. What differentiates them is the process they adopt for their respective outcome. Secondly, achieving a goal is only a momentary change. You set a goal to clean your room but after a few days, it becomes messy due to your laziness and lack of discipline. You find yourself in an endless pursuit to keep your room clean. Thirdly, goals restrict your happiness. We often say to ourselves that we will be happy if we can achieve a certain position or salary. But once we reach that level we want to pursue more. Happiness eludes us at every new milestone. Fourthly, goals are at odds with long term progress. You win the spelling bee or become a state champion in your respective sport, then you just stop. You stop studying or you quit honing your athletic prowess. [2] 

Similarly, temporary enthusiasm and the spiritual journey are at odds with one another. The path to recognizing God Almighty requires life-long devotion that leads to limitless progress. In fact, the Holy Qur’an speaks of this pursuit continuing into the hereafter and the yearning of man to seek further perfection and excellence. [3]


Forget about the Goal, Focus on Systems

Anyone who has pursued a long-term goal would acknowledge the universal truth that the journey is more important than the destination. The need to fall in love with the process, and to trust it entirely, should take hold of one’s focus far more than the end goal.[4] 

Goals are about the results you want to achieve, and systems are about the processes that lead to those results. [5] If you are an athlete, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is the way you train, build chemistry and practice. It is remarkable that this ground-breaking and present-day research can be found at the onset of the Holy Qur’an, a sacred scripture revealed in the seventh century. Surah Al-Fatihah [the opening chapter of the Holy Qur’an] is a daily reminder for Muslims pursuing a spiritual journey to trust the process. The spiritual system for pursuing the heights of spirituality is as follows, ‘You alone do we worship, You alone do we beseech for help, guide us to the right path, the path of those upon whom you have bestowed your blessing, not of those who have incurred your displeasure not of those who have gone astray.’ [6]

Upon deeper reflection, it becomes apparent that this prayer serves as a daily reminder about the system or process to achieve God’s nearness. The words, Thee alone do we worship, connote that we have used the faculties and strengths granted to us by God to the best of our abilities to seek out His help. [7] We then implore God Almighty to show us the correct method and way to pursue his affinity. Then we express the desire to follow the system of those fortunate souls who have attained spiritual blessings. We implore God to save us from the failure others have incurred by keeping us true to the process.

The Promised Messiah (as) elucidates this philosophy beautifully in the following words, ‘When man treads upon the straight path steadily and follows the paths that are necessary for achieving the objective, the objective is achieved automatically. But it can never happen that if the ways of leading to the objective are abandoned, it should be achieved. On the contrary, it is the eternal law that there is a fixed way for achieving every goal and until one adopts that fixed way, he cannot achieve that objective. Therefore, the object that must be sought through diligence, effort, prayer, and humility is صراط مستقیم [sirat-e-mustaqim—the straight path]. He who does not strive to attain the straight path, and attaches no value to it, is a misguided person in the sight of God. If he were to beg God for Paradise and the comforts of the Hereafter, Divine Wisdom would respond to him, ‘O ignorant one! Seek first the straight path, and then all of this will be given to you easily.’ Hence, the primary prayer which the seeker after truth urgently needs is the prayer to seek the attainment of the straight path. [8]

If you are about to embark on your spiritual journey, it is essential you equip yourself with the correct tools and knowledge. Before you take your first step, implore God to guide you on the right path. Remain humble and consistent. Step over pebbles before climbing mountains. Just as we feel sympathy for a student exerting himself day and night, how can God Almighty with His infinite mercy and compassion allow a person who strives in his way to go waste?  Never would He do so. Allah the Exalted does not allow anyone’s effort to go in vain. [9]

So if you ever feel like abandoning your journey because you aren’t seeing any tangible results,  just remember God’s promise, ‘Then whoso does an atom’s weight of good will see it, And whoso does an atom’s weight of evil will also see it.’ [10]

About the Author: Qasim Choudhary is a recent graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canadaand serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States of America.


[1] Malfuzat, Vol.1, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), (Eng.Translation)  pg. 135-136

[2] Atomic Habits, by James Clear, (iBook) p.73-78, New York: Avery, Penguin Random House (2018)

[3] The Philosophy Of The Teachings Of Islam, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), (Eng. Translation) p.156


[5] Atomic Habits, by James Clear, (iBook) p.69, New York: Avery, Penguin Random House (2018)

[6] The Holy Qur’an, 1:6-7

[7] Malfuzat, Vol.1, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), (Eng.Translation)  pg. 206-207

[8] Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part IV, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), (Eng.Translation)  pg.238-239

[9] Malfuzat Vo1.1 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), (Eng. Translation) p.141

[10] The Holy Qur’an, 99:8-9