Turning Over A New Leaf

In the spirit of the New Year, I find myself wondering what it means to turn over a new leaf. To start again. To build again. To reform. To change. To resolve. These are all powerful words, and people use them all the time. They’ll say things like: “this is the last time I will…”, or “tomorrow I will…”, and for some, these resolutions do see some fruition. Not the resolutions-i-know-i’ll-break-tomorrow type of resolutions, but the real kind of life-affirming, life-altering resolutions that are based purely on the simple will power of the average human being. No more, no less.

And it makes me wonder if people do change. We are made up of so many elements of socialization and culturalization that are so well ingrained in us, so much a part of who we are, that I wonder if we can fight against them; these things that have become our natural instincts. Can we essentially unlearn what we have learned? More importantly, can we do it out of sheer will power or do we need a catalyst?

The tales I hear that involve people actually changing, usually involve a catalyst: the fundamental contact with a life-altering, often times shocking event that just changes the way they think and act by default. In Jordan, for instance, such stories are those of a person who moves from being religious to becoming non-religious, and vice versa. But it could be about anything. An alcoholic gets in to a car accident and survives, for example.

Rarely have I ever seen anyone who has changed out of a simple desire to do so. There always seems to be a catalyst involved, and it always tends to be that of fear. When we are afraid, we tend to approach things differently. When our lives are at risk, we’ll often do anything in the name of preservation.

Anything else, seems, moot.

Women for example tend to always think they can change a man. They can get him to quit smoking, or settle down or what have you. This domestication and reformation is something I find interesting. It’s not just because women don’t really understand men, but more along the lines of we, as human beings, don’t really understand ourselves quite yet. We don’t know how we work or operate. And yet, we are so willing to claim to know how others work or operate. It’s really fascinating.

So when some one tells me they got so-and-so to quit doing something, I’ve never believed it. While we would be willing to do anything in the name of fear and self-preservation, our same willingness to change for other things seems almost: fantasy. Least of all, love. Sure, we’ll do it for a while, to placate the masses, but it won’t last. I don’t think it ever does.

Even when it comes to the more addictive things. Rarely have I seen someone quitting something that was unhealthy, simply because they woke up one day and resolved to do so. And I sprinkle the word “rarely” throughout this post in recognition of the exceptions.

Maybe this is why we always find films and books and stories about a protagonist who just suddenly wakes up and changes, so interesting. Whether they’re sick of the lives they lead or are having a mid-life crisis or whatever. We observe them closely because we’re trying to figure out how they did it. How they managed to change who they are. Their most essential properties of existance. Redefining in a moment, what took years and years to naturally define.

It’s why all those self-help books always sell out. Seven habits of highly effective people. How to change your life and be a better person. It’s why motivational speakers always sell out large halls and their books and CDs. There is a whole wide market of people who are desperate to change and don’t know how. And in moments of desperation we will cling to anyone offering salvation. Especially if it only costs us three payments of $19.99.

But I think it’s strange how much fear governs what we do. Not love, or sheer will-power, or hope, or any other powerful emotion. Nothing seems to be as potent as fear.

And with only that in mind: what does it mean to truly, turn over a new leaf?


  • I vowed on the Qura’n to quit carbonated drink three years ago, and I’m still up to it el7amdella. Now, why have i done so? yes, It was partially out of self-preservation. Cola, pepsi, Dr. peper, sparkling water.. etc all taste good, but i decided that it’s not doing me any good (healthwise) so I simply quit carbonated drinks all together. however, there are no major life threatening effects of carbonated drinks, and so i will still say that it was a simple desire to just quit 😀

  • secratea: ah but see you vowed on the quran which is a powerful statement in itself. there are people who take religious vows because they feel it is the only way to keep them in check. i’ve done that myself. the reason we do it is because on a subconscious level, those of us who are religious and thus takes such vows seriously, we’ll use the underlying fear of divine punishment as a self-motivator. it works, but it’s also fear-induced at the end of the day.

  • But Nas, if there was no motivation, what so ever, I don’t see why a person would choose to change, build, reform… etc any aspect of his/her life. We constantly evolve as we grow up, and that definitely involves making choices—choices of changing aspects in our lives. The sheer free will to change is still conditioned with what we desire—that is the desire to change.
    And choosing to change doesn’t have to involve some subconscious hidden fear. As in the example I provided in my previous comment, what I meant to say is that I chose to quit carbonated drinks because I no longer desire to drink any. Yes, there was a motivation, I just no longer wanted to consume something that’s not healthy, but there was no underlying fear– the motivation was my desire to quit. And vowing on the Qura’n was only to make sure i don’t go back on it.
    Also, when we read a novel about this protagonist that reforms a major aspect in his/her character, we know that there is a hidden motivation, and the reader’s role is to understand that change does not happen with a blink, there certainly must be a desire that pushed the character to carry out this change.

  • secratea: you make a valid point, except i think even when we resolve to do something, even if we have that motivation, it may not be enough to keep the resolution valid. we need backup; hence your vowing as a way to “make sure”, as you put it.

    the kinds of changes i speak of are permanent life-altering ones. in all liklihood, the person sometimes changes 180 degrees. and in those, i dont think anything can inspire that type of…permanent revolution…more than fear.

    and on some level, i think we’re all aware of it. whether we are or not.

  • Remember too that some of this is Qadar Allah subhana wa Talla. I became a Muslim when I was 25 years old. There were many incidents in my life which led up to that point, but not one huge life alterting moment. If I look back at my life there were so many ‘aha’ moments that pointed to my conversion but each one of them separately is not much of a catalyst. I was thorough. I went to Egypt for two years to live amongst Muslims. Maybe in hind sight that wasn’t the greatest idea, but you have to take the Ummah for what it is currently. Alhamdulillah books give a better idea about what Islam really is–the Deen is perfect, the Muslim people are not. After returning to the States, things just fell into place and it just felt right at that time to convert. Alhamdulillah, I have never looked back. And MashAllah those early days of Islam were some of my strongest in practice. I dropped everything I could from my past and changed my way of dress, my lifestyle, etc. I went full force. Alhamdulillah. I suppose you can’t compare such a thing to quiting smoking because conversion is such a life changing thing. Does fear factor in? Sure, I was afraid on some level that I would go to hell but at the same time there was more involved. I wanted to be loved by Allah SWT and obey His will. I think that is a stronger motivator. To be accepted for doing what is right. InshAllah we will all be guided to do what is right.

  • Um Omar: Thanks for going to the trouble of writing out exactly what I was thinking.

    Nas: If you want to see people who have really turned over a new leaf, look no further than “reverts” to Islam – at least those who take their conversion seriously.

  • Um Omar and Um AbdulRahman: mashallah, a lot of mothers seem to be reading my blog recently, good stuff. 😀

    i think religion and converting is a special case here, maybe even a cause for exception given the nature of it. however, granting the premise, i would have to say even those who seek out another religion are looking for something along the lines of salvation, and a great deal of that stems from fear. there is obviously no denying that religion, especially Islam which calls for absolute submission, is the art of worshiping through fear and love; sometimes even simultaneously. but sometimes i fell the human instinct is to revert to the emotion which carries more meaning. in other words, do most worship out of their love and desire for heaven, or out of fear of hell? it is a mix of both but i think there is a naturally occurring emphasis on the latter. hence my conclusion that fear is a much more potent catalyst than anything else could ever be.

  • No one should even try to change WHO they are! you can only change what you do, or what you are and no one else in the world can make you. I can’t even change myself, let alone being so delusional to think that I can change someone else. Some people can influence other people’s lives though, even the way they think, of course I’m talking about great people and I realize that they’re rare but do exist non the less.

    But I don’t think that only fear can make us change, love makes us change even if temporarily. But reason and wisdom make smart people change too. People need a good reason to change, of course “a good reason” means different things to different people. But as far as addiction goes, it’s not as simple as having a good reason, addicts are sick people who need help, who need interference and most of the times they need to be forced into a rehab of some sort. I just think it’s not fair to say that addicts are merely people who refuse to change or even worse, judging them by saying they’ll never change.

    Happy new year Nas 🙂

  • mo: lol congrats man 😀

    Shaden: “love makes us change even if temporarily” I was talking about permanent changes. also, i think influence is highly overrated in these cases. permanent change usually requires the summoning of a will power that is beyond the casual influence of another person; it comes from inside.

    as far as permanent change comes, i dont see another catalyst powerful enough than fear. emphasis on catalyst.

    happy New Year to you too

  • well, tricky thing about life is that nothing is permanent in it so temporary changes (temporary as in lasts for few years only) is good. who wants permanent anyway? it’s boring and in my opinion a sign of no personal growth.

  • building character based on temporary changes is like building castles made of sand and pretending their concrete. they sift, they collapse; that’s their fate.

    i think permenant positive changes, the kind that everyone aspires to achieve, are the biggest sign of personal growth, or of any growth at all for that matter. on the other hand, constant temporary changes are a sign of instability.

  • building character based on temporary changes is like building castles made of sand and pretending their concrete. they sift, they collapse; that’s their fate.

    i think permenant positive changes, the kind that everyone aspires to achieve, are the biggest sign of personal growth, or of any growth at all for that matter. on the other hand, constant temporary changes are a sign of instability.


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