Ramadan was great for Sarah. She actually started praying five times a day on time. But once the blessed month is over she fears the momentum, drive and motivation that kept her going will fade out. Sarah is worried that this good habit might not last.
But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, a number of psychologists agree that a person needs about three weeks to develop a good habit. If you've been praying regularly, fasting, controlling your temper, trying to be more patient, or keeping any other good habit during Ramadan, you're almost sure, Insha Allah, to keep up with it afterwards.
Nonetheless, we all slip up. As well, the drive that pushes us to do good in Ramadan is usually not as strong the rest of the year. Here are a few things you can do to maintain the good habits you picked during Ramadan:
1. Make Dua
It was Allah who gave you the ability to keep the good habit in Ramadan, and only He can help you maintain it afterwards. Make Dua that Allah helps you not only keep the habit, but that He accepts it and makes it a way for you to grow in closeness to Him.
2. Make it a habit
If you want to keep good habits, you've got to make sure they remain part of your daily schedule. For instance, fasting. Did you know that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged fasting on Mondays and Thursdays? He said: A man's deeds are reported (to Allah) on Mondays and Thursdays and I prefer that I should be fasting when my deeds are reported (Tirmidhi).
This is a great way of maintaining the habit so you're not rusty by next Ramadan.
Or for example, were you extra generous during Ramadan? Well, maybe you can portion out a set amount of your weekly or monthly paycheck to a charitable cause to maintain the habit of giving.
Make the habit part of your daily and weekly schedule. The point is to keep the action in practice, and of course gain rewards from Allah.
3. Think about your day each night
Evaluating ourselves, our intentions, words and actions, every night is a very good way to maintain good habits (see a sample self-evaluation form).
Self-evaluation doesn't only help you see where you are and where you've got to go. It's also a great reminder of what you were supposed to do and didn't.
Add a question or two (or three or four) about your specific habit into a daily self-evaluation questionnaire. Ask yourself, for instance, how often did I pray today? What was the quality of my prayer? Did I pray on time? etc. These serve to remind you to keep up the habit and do better next time.
4. Evaluate yourself weekly
This helps you see the bigger picture. You'll be able to evaluate on a more long-term level how well you've been keeping your habit in practice. You can do the same thing on a monthly and yearly basis.
For those who are really into the technical aspect of self-evaluation, maybe you can make a graph to help you chart how well (or not so well) you've been keeping up with your good habit.
5. Get a friend to help
What are friends for anyway? If you've got a close friend you feel you can share your new habit with, let them join you in keeping up with it and keeping tabs on you while they're at it. This will not only encourage you, but Insha Allah, it'll deepen your brother/sisterhood as well.
Alternatively, look for groups where you can maintain the habit. If, for instance, you memorized Quran regularly in Ramadan and want to keep the habit, join an Islamic study circle focused on memorization.
6. Don't fall apart once you make one mistake
The beauty of Tawbah (repentance) in Islam, is that Allah blesses us with this opportunity to return back to Him after doing something wrong. We should remember that we are humans and that we will err. Only Allah is Perfect.
This is why, for instance, if we were able to pray on time all through Ramadan, but become slack afterwards, we must realize it, seek Allah's forgiveness sincerely, and try our best to get back on track, asking Allah to help us.
We should not give up trying to pray on time just because we have missed doing so on a couple of occasions.
7. Ask yourself WHY you kept the habit
Niyyah or intention is a key to Allah's acceptance of our good deeds. If we developed a habit to impress others, for instance, we may be able to keep the momentum for a while, but most probably it'll wear out afterwards.
But if we maintained a habit sincerely for the sake of Allah, Insha Allah, not only will we be rewarded for it, but our intention will help us maintain the necessary motivation to continue to do good.
8. Don't expect the same results
If you were ready to spring out of bed in anticipation for Fajr during many of the days of Ramadan, but find yourself barely waking up for the prayer afterwards, don't be surprised, but don't become slack either.
Good habits are often easy to maintain in Ramadan, the blessed month. The hard part is doing so after the "high" of Ramadan. This is where you'll have to work hard to force yourself to maintain your habit, whether it's waking up for Fajr, not smoking, eating less, being more patient, etc.
Be thankful when you're able to maintain your habit and think about practical things you can do to keep it up on a regular basis.
9. Work your way up slowly
Aisha reported that Rasulullah said: Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and remember that you shall enter Paradise only through Allah's Mercy, and also remember that the most beloved deed to Allah is that which is regular and constant even if it is little (Bukhari).
The wisdom in this Hadith is tremendous and it is one way of keeping up good habits you have picked up in Ramadan.
For example, let's say you were motivated to read Quran for half-an-hour on a daily basis in Ramadan. But now that it's over, you feel sluggish, lazy and want to give it up. Yet, you had wanted to maintain this habit after the blessed month was over.
Instead of trying to read Quran for the same amount of time, reduce the time period to as much as you are initially able to do, even if it's just five minutes a day.
If you keep up this 'five minutes a day' habit, Insha Allah, you will see the amount of Quran you read will increase slowly but gradually, perhaps even surpassing your Ramadan maximum in the long-term, Insha Allah!
10. Don't give yourself the option
What makes you get up for work in the mornings, no matter how tired you are? What makes you drag yourself out of a warm bed on a cold morning to get ready for school? It's the fact that you have no option, and you know that there are negative consequences to not going to work (you'll be fired) or school (you'll fail).
Use the same kind of psychology on yourself when it comes to maintaining your good habit. Tell yourself, for instance, that Allah will be very angry with you if you do not pray Fajr, no matter how cold your room is on a frosty December morning. That in turn can lead to more bad deeds, which could lead to decreased faith, and a downward spiral in your life. And Allah can punish you in various ways in this world as well as the next for not praying. You could lose your job; you could have a family crisis, etc.