Jack-in-the-box and New Year’s resolutions


Ataul Fatir Tahir, Al Hakam

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“Motivation”, at the turn of every New Year peaks with people vowing to start exercising regularly, eating healthy, accomplishing a personal goal or striving towards other self-improvement habits like reading or giving charity. 

This esoteric-like passion rapidly sprouts up across the globe and is even capitalised upon by consumerism and industries in the western hemisphere who, at the end of the year, begin to advertise more furiously the latest “smart-watch” that will aid you in counting “every calorie” or sportswear at “unbeatable prices”. 

Don’t get me wrong! New Year’s resolutions, after all, are a step towards personal growth or at least the realisation that one needs to do something to improve an area of their life. However, research has proved that the sad reality about New Year’s resolutions is that 80% of them fail (inc.com, 19 January 2019). They end up being like a jack-in-the-box, only maintained for a short while, until the lid opens and jack pops back up. 

Psychologists have posed a number of reasons why New Year’s resolutions, or for that matter any resolve to do something, ends in failure; from goals not being specific enough to framing them negatively. 

One reason given by psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, was that people set goals that are not about themselves. In reality, they do not “believe” in the goal themselves, rather the goal is a construct of society and expectations around them and is not an entirely personal endeavour. (businessinsider.com, 19 December 2019)

Long before Jonathan Alpert’s theory, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud, Khalifatul Masih II, may Allah be pleased with him, spoke of how Jamaat members fall into a jack-in-the-box type trap with regard to practising their faith. He gave the solution to the relapse and stressed how Ahmadis need to make their faith a completely personal and individually motivated matter. 

Our present Imam, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, may Allah be his helper, on 29 November 2013, referred to a sermon in which Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra spoke of the jack-in-the-box situation. 

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said that he gave a lot of counsel and delivered sermons, (Huzooraa added that this continues in every Khilafat as it does now) and it is observed that as long as the series of sermons last, some effect can be seen amongst people. But once the series of sermons stop, or after a while, the effect vanishes and is gone.  

He gave the example of the toy jack-in-the-box in this regard, whereby a flexible doll (Jack) inside a box stays put when the lid is closed but as soon as the lid is opened, the doll instantly jumps out. 

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said that this is the same situation with such people. If continuous counsel is given to them (about faith), its effect remains. However, if the counsel is stopped, they instantaneously jump to their old ways like a jack-in-the-box. 

One solution Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra presented was that the Jamaat needs to “realise” that by sending the Promised Messiahas, Allah the Exalted has put a huge “responsibility on them”. 

“Even if a person has a colossal amount of ills, it is not difficult to rid of them if he resolves to do so. A famous saying of Jesus, peace be upon him, is that even if you have an iota of faith in your heart, you can move mountains. This means that even if your sins are as huge as mountains, if a person instils a little bit of faith, it can blow away the mountains. The day a believer resolves, no impediments shall remain in his way and the obstruction shall disappear.”

In the above extract quoted by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, it is clear that by accepting the Promised Messiahas, the responsibility is on “us” – it is a very personal matter. Once the realisation kicks in that our faith and belief is a personal and individual goal that we must strive to improve, our resolve to practice our faith will not relapse as much. To practice our faith and follow the guidelines Khilafat gives us, we must ensure we truly accept and “believe” what we are required to carry out. It has to be an internal, personally motivated goal.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa also quoted the Promised Messiahas who had stressed the importance of faith as a personal, individual responsibility and objective that must not be hindered by the pomp of the world. The Promised Messiahas said: 

“Regrettably, rather than understand their obligation and keep the purpose and objective of their life in view, after attaining adulthood, most people in this world abandon God and turn to the world. They are so enamoured by the wealth and reputation of the world that they keep a very small measure for Allah the Exalted. They are only engrossed in the world and succumb to it and have no clue that there is also a God.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 4, p. 137 [2003])

Psychology has proven that for a goal to be achievable with continuous motivation, it is imperative that the goal be a very personal and individual endeavour. If someone does not perceive their goal or task to truly be something they are passionate and emotional about; failure is inevitable. The “jack” will always spring out. 

(For a more detailed read, please refer to the Friday Sermon delivered by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa on 29 November 2013)

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  1. Great article. It’s amazing the insight Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud ra had, way before much of our understanding about psychology and motivation etc.


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