How Can I Become a DAFOR?
A Story from Arabia about the Habits of Outstanding Students
Mohammed Al Husein
Copyright © 2017 by Mohammed Al Husein
All rights reserved
To the woman who received no education but taught me everything …
To you, mother …
I still remember my first year at school when my mother used to help me get dressed in the morning, whispering tenderly in my sleepy ears, “You are an outstanding student, my son.” She repeated those words every single day. Her encouragement gave me faith in my ability to excel, and I became—thanks be to Allah—an excellent student throughout my years at school.
This book is the harvest of twenty-four years of academic studies in schools and universities. It consists of the latest skills taught and advice given by experts in human development to help a student to excel. I have trained hundreds of students—both males and females—in these skills, and the results were amazing.
How can I become a DAFOR? is a book for every student who aspires to achieve academic excellence, and for all parents who want their children to be successful. I assure you that when someone seeks to acquire the habits of excellence that are explained in this book, the results will be beyond their expectations.
You might ask, “What does the word DAFOR mean, and what does it have to do with excellence?”
DAFOR is a word that was used in times gone by in some Gulf regions, and it means the gas stove. Over time, the word has been used as a colloquial expression to describe a hard-working student, perhaps because the hard-working student possesses a bright mind or maybe because he strives continuously and stays awake tirelessly many nights just like a stove. Thus, the word DAFOR, in this context, signifies a hard-working student who seeks excellence.
Some use the word DAFOR to describe superior students of brilliant intellect who understand everything effortlessly. In this book, the DAFORs we are talking about are ordinary students who excelled only when they did their best to continuously improve their academic standard. Thus, they didn’t have to be a genius to achieve excellent academic results.
I have chosen to tell you about the habits of outstanding students in the form of a story recounted by a student named Meshari. All the events and characters in this story are fictional; nevertheless, the habits and skills you are going to learn from this story are completely real, and many students have benefited from them. You will benefit from them as well. I truly hope that you will find the enjoyment and benefits you desire in How Can I Become a DAFOR?
I shall now leave you with Meshari so he can tell you his story.
Have you ever wondered if your academic performance could be improved? Do you wish to graduate with high honours and make your parents and loved ones happy with your incredible success? You might be surprised when I tell you that each one of us is capable of excelling academically—yes, each one of us! Students with low academic levels and, certainly, students with average academic levels can excel. Even an excellent student can become more excellent. Each one of us can be a DAFOR but, unfortunately, most of us go through many years of schooling without realising that they can do it.
I was an ordinary student. For many years, my academic performance was modest until I met the person who taught me valuable lessons about achieving academic excellence. I am happy to share my interesting story of academic excellence with you so that you can benefit from it and become the DAFOR that you want to be. First, let me introduce myself before recounting the important events that changed me from an ordinary student to an outstanding DAFOR.
My name is Meshari, and I was born in Al Hasa, a beautiful vast oasis in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that embraces dozens of villages. I had very loving parents, and my mother is the kindest and nicest person I have ever known. Not one day went by without her showering me with love and attention. I still remember in detail how she cared for me throughout my childhood. She would be up all night by my side when I was sick; she used to help me get dressed every morning before going to school. Even today, she fears greatly for me and misses me a lot—even if I’m away for a short while.
My father also loved me and cared a lot for me but, unfortunately, he died when I was only six years old. I know that he was a teacher, but I don’t remember much about him except his limitless love for me. My mother says that he loved me more than anything else in the world and had high hopes for me. He used to say to her, “You will see how our son Meshari will grow up to be the apple of our eyes.” I missed my father a lot, but it made me very sad when I felt that I was disappointing him, especially on the days I received my school grades.
My mother provided me with everything a student could need. Nevertheless, I wasn’t an outstanding student. In my primary school days, my academic performance was modest. I wasn’t lazy or a failure; I simply was not an outstanding student. Every time I saw how very happy my clever friends or relatives were with their excellent grades, I felt sorry for myself. My sorrow mounted whenever I saw the sad look on my mother’s face. For many long years, the moment that I hated most was when I received my school grades, because I knew I was once again going to let both my mother and father down. After seeing my grades, she would ask me: “Is there anything you need to improve your grades, son?” Feeling ashamed, I would remain silent.
I wasn’t satisfied with myself, and I didn’t know what to do to make progress. I had so many ideas. Sometimes I would ask myself: What can I do to improve my performance? Where do I begin? Other times I would think, in desperation: Perhaps this is the best I can do. Maybe this is the most I can achieve. Maybe the others are better than me because Allah made them more intelligent.
My situation didn’t change with the passing of the school years, up until I finished middle school and moved to the first year of high school. I started studying in a new school, hoping that my academic situation would get better. However, the early days brought nothing new. Nothing different happened during the first two weeks of school. As usual, some teachers were good, and others were not so good. Some subjects were hard, and others—less so. Personally, I didn’t feel that anything had changed. Although the school and my teachers and classmates changed, my self-doubt and poor performance didn’t. I was gripped by the belief that that school year would be yet another ordinary one in which I was ultimately going to disappoint my parents—and myself. The feeling of frustration was acute, even though I was still at the start of the journey.
Everything changed completely when I met my new friend Faisal during one of our local games. Faisal and his friends taught me valuable lessons in the short period of time that I spent with them. Those lessons radically changed my academic situation, and I became a true DAFOR.
I graduated from secondary school with a high distinction. I then received my Bachelor’s Degree with a very good average. It all happened with the lessons I learnt from Faisal and his friends.
Having had such a life-transforming experience, I am confident that we all have the power to excel, and so do you. How? You will soon find out.
Finally, the school bell rang, signalling the end of the day. It had been a very boring day, or so I thought, as I had been distracted the whole time. There I was at the end of my second week at high school, having had little success in my efforts to find a way to improve my situation. I was worried and afraid of failure and of not getting the chance to be accepted at a good university, thus ending up in an average job for the rest of my life. I knew that I was in a difficult predicament, but I didn’t know how to reverse it.
What made things worse was that although it was only our second week at school, our maths teacher announced that our first exam for that year was just four weeks away. He wanted us to be mentally prepared and concentrate more during his lessons. Our teacher wasn’t aware that his explanations were not useful to me and others like me who lacked the basics of that hard subject. News of the exam only alleviated my fears.
To escape my school worries, that Thursday evening, I decided to join Al Safwa football team. I had always wanted to play with that team, which only accepted older boys who had finished middle school. I had been waiting for that moment for years; it had always been one of my biggest dreams.
I thought that my excitement to play with the team of my dreams would help me forget my fears, but I was mistaken. Minutes after the start of the game, I completely lost concentration and excused myself. I couldn’t dismiss my anxiety. I sat by the side of the pitch, watching the game, but my mind drifted to another world. In my confusion, I heard a warm voice addressing me, “Okay if I sit down?” I got up to see Faisal standing in front of me with a smile on his face that I couldn’t explain. I replied hesitantly, “Of course, please sit down,” but he was already by my side before I had finished speaking.
Faisal was one of Al Safwa’s veteran players. For years, I had admired his sporting ability. In addition to his amazing skill, Faisal, who was twenty-two years old, was one of the most outstanding students in our village. We used to hear about his accomplishments at King Faisal University in Al Hasa where he was studying general medicine. I didn’t know him personally, but I could safely say that he was everybody’s friend. While most of the young men were one-dimensional, Faisal was head and shoulders above everyone. He had no enemies, and from his direct way of speaking on that day, I discovered that he was good at communicating with everyone—even with boys like me who were quite a few years younger than him.
There was some physical resemblance between us. We were of the same height, 170 cm approximately, but I was a little darker and thinner than him. He had a more proportionate and athletic body. His look was indicative of his sharp intelligence, particularly when he wore his rectangular black-framed glasses and his hair parted to one side.
“How’s it going, Meshari, our new team member?” he asked me while tying his shoes. I answered with apprehension, “I’m fine, thanks be to Allah.” He started talking to me as if he had known me for a long time, even though that was our first ever conversation. I soon felt comfortable and started chatting with him excitedly. Faisal had a special way of talking. In spite of his obvious intelligence, his good humour and great modesty endeared him to everyone. Moreover, he was a Barcelona fan like me. Within a few minutes, we were exchanging stories and anecdotes.
After a moment of silence, he remarked with concern: “When you were on the field, Meshari, you looked distracted as if something was troubling you.” I was surprised by his comment because I didn’t expect my behaviour to be so apparent to others. I was embarrassed, but I told Faisal what was worrying me. I explained my fear of not being able to improve my academic standard and excel in my studies. I told him that I was afraid of not making any progress.
Faisal: So you want to be an outstanding student?
Faisal: You want to become a DAFOR?
Meshari: Yes, yes! I want to be a DAFOR just like you. I want to love studying and to understand all the challenging subjects that we are learning. I want to raise my average so I can ensure a bright future for myself and my family. I love education, Faisal; believe me, I do. I just don’t know how to improve myself. I have tried so much, but each time …
Faisal: All right, all right. Do you want me to teach you the secrets of excellence?
My eyes opened wide, and I couldn’t believe my ears.
Meshari: Teach me?
Faisal: Yes. If you want, I will.
Meshari: Yes, I do. I’ll listen to you, and I’ll take everything you teach me seriously, and I’ll never disappoint you. I promise.
He smiled, looked at me and said, “All right then,” but we were interrupted by a whistle announcing the end of the first half of the game. We agreed to resume our conversation after the end of the game because he had to come on as a substitute in the second half.
The happiest moments were those that I spent with Faisal by the side of the pitch. All of a sudden, I felt that there was a glimmer of hope for me. I didn’t know why, but I became more eager to try than ever before. Perhaps I felt like a drowning man clinging to a rope. I waited impatiently for the time to pass until the end of the game. My enthusiasm mounted when our team won by three goals, two of which were scored by Faisal.
As soon as the referee blew his whistle to announce the end of the game and our sweeping victory, I hurried over to Faisal to congratulate him. A while later, most of the players and supporters left the place, and I had the courage to remind Faisal about the matter at hand. He looked at me, smiling like a teacher proud of his student and said, “I like your enthusiasm. That’s a good sign.”
Meshari: Will this place do for our conversation? Shouldn’t I get some maths and science books?
Meshari: So you can show me how to study these subjects, especially maths! I’m really struggling with it Faisal, and our teacher has set an exam for …
Faisal smiled and replied: “Don’t rush things, Meshari; listen to me carefully.”
Meshari: I’m all ears
Faisal: The place doesn’t matter now because our conversation will be brief. But I do want to clarify an important issue. What you are going to learn, Meshari, is different from the study skills that you are thinking of. You will not receive any lessons in memorization or fast reading. Also, I’m not going to explain to you the methods of preparing for exams or studying scientific material. These are all essential things that do have a positive effect, but what you are going to learn is much more important than all of them.
Meshari: And what are the lessons that will change me and make me a DAFOR, Faisal?
Faisal: You are going to learn the habits of the DAFORs.
I was a little surprised and kept my silence. I had never heard that the DAFORs had habits. But Faisal’s serious demeanour forced me to trust him. Wide-eyed, I answered him firmly: “I want to learn everything to achieve excellence. Everything, Faisal.”
Faisal: And I’ll be with you. Acquiring these habits, Meshari, will help you improve your academic level quickly and make achievements you have never dreamed of. You will graduate from school with high honours, join a good university, and graduate with an excellent average as well. Moreover, if you acquire the habits of the DAFORs, you will find it easy to learn everything and not just the school curriculums.
Meshari: I’m so excited, Faisal!
Faisal: If you apply what you are going to learn, Meshari, you will soon see the improvement yourself. Others before you have acquired the habits of the DAFORs and noticed a big difference in their life. I’m one of them.
Meshari: But how did you learn these habits?
Faisal: Do you really want to know?
Meshari: No, not really. You said that others before me learnt these habits. Are there many of them? Is there anyone else besides you in our village who has acquired these habits?
Faisal: Of course, there are many. You will meet some of them.
Meshari: What do you mean?
Faisal: I mean that I shall not be the only one who will teach you the habits of the DAFORs. There will be four others, and you will learn one habit from each one of us. There are five DAFOR habits.
I blurted out: “I understand. You and four other DAFORs are going to teach me the five habits to become an outstanding DAFOR!”
We enjoyed our conversation. I was pleased that someone was going to mentor me, and Faisal was happy because he had found in me a student who earnestly wanted to learn from him. While we were walking to his parked car, I asked him, “What happens now? How do we begin?”
Faisal: I’ll meet you tomorrow at seven in the morning at the Southern Farm. There, I’ll teach you the first habit of the DAFORs.
Meshari: 7 a.m. on a Friday?! But Friday is weekend.
Faisal: What happened to that boundless enthusiasm of yours?!
Meshari: Point taken. I’ll meet you at seven in the morning at the Southern Farm.
I was about to leave when Faisal asked me to wait. He said: “We haven’t finished yet, Meshari. Before you go, I want you to take this piece of paper.” He took out a sheet of paper from the back seat of his car. It was full of questions, and at the top of the sheet, the words The Measure of Excellence were written.
I looked over the sheet, then asked him what it was, and he answered me calmly: “This is a simple evaluation to help you find out the extent of your capability to achieve academic excellence, Meshari. It might not be an entirely scientific evaluation, but it is a good indicator of where you stand at present in the world of excellence, my friend.”
Faisal was silent for a while; then he said: “The Measure of Excellence revolves around the five habits that you are going to learn. I suggest that you evaluate yourself to identify your strengths and weaknesses. You can calculate the results at the bottom of the page, but I want to draw your attention to something: if you don’t like your result, don’t be upset. Remember that you are about to learn these habits and this is only a realistic view of your present situation. Soon you will improve your level and your situation, and you will fly high in the world of excellence. You will notice that the Measure of Excellence does not touch on your intelligence or grades. All the questions are about your habits and personal opinions.”
[*Meshari: *]You mean that the Measure of Excellence does not measure my intelligence but the extent of my capability to acquire the habits of outstanding students? So when these habits are present in my mind and conduct, this will automatically reflect on my academic performance, and I will become a DAFOR?
The idea of measuring excellence appealed to me. At least I was going to find out where I stood in the world of DAFORs.
I thanked Faisal warmly and hurried home. That night, I evaluated myself using the Measure of Excellence, but the result was very disappointing. I had expected low results but not as low as that! I tried to calm down as I remembered Faisal’s words that I could improve myself if I learned and implemented the habits of the DAFORs.
By the way, you can also try the Measure of Excellence that Faisal gave me and recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. (You will find it on the next page.)
Anyway, I put the result of the evaluation in a small envelope and kept it in my desk drawer. I started counting the hours to my meeting with Faisal the next morning at the Southern Farm. There, I was going to learn the first habit of the DAFORs.
Before going to bed, I took out my little notebook and wrote down a summary of what I had learnt from my meeting with Faisal:
Evaluate yourself in all the following questions. The marks are from 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest, and 5, the highest.
1. I believe that it’s my responsibility to be outstanding. It’s up to me, regardless of the circumstances.
1 2 3 4 5
2. When I have difficulties at school, I take full responsibility and try to overcome them without blaming others or the circumstances.
1 2 3 4 5
3. I focus on the things that I can influence to improve myself, and I don’t pay much attention to circumstances I can’t influence.
1 2 3 4 5
4. My academic goals are clear and defined.
1 2 3 4 5
5. My academic goals are put down in writing.
1 2 3 4 5
6. I believe that I can achieve my goal, and I trust in my ability to make progress.
1 2 3 4 5
7. I address myself in a positive, encouraging way as if I’m addressing my best friend.
1 2 3 4 5
8. I choose friends who can help me succeed, and I stay away from those who do not work to improve themselves.
1 2 3 4 5
9. I endure hardship, and I overcome obstacles to be successful.
1 2 3 4 5
10. I am careful how I spend my time and avoid wasting it.
1 2 3 4 5
11. I record my school obligations in my planner (for school) or the semester calendar (for university).
1 2 3 4 5
12. If I know I have something important to do, I do it promptly, regardless of whether it is boring or interesting, and I don’t put it off.
1 2 3 4 5
13. I read at least one book a month.
1 2 3 4 5
14. I proactively develop my knowledge of necessary extracurricular subjects, such as computer skills and standardised tests (e.g. SAT, IELTS, GRE), outside school hours.
1 2 3 4 5
15. I ask for help from those who are better than me without feeling embarrassed.
1 2 3 4 5
16. I take good care of myself by eating healthy food, getting enough sleep and doing physical activity.
1 2 3 4 5
Analysing the results (after adding up the points)
(A super DAFOR): you are great! Keep up this amazing performance, and you’ll live a life full of achievements.
(A promising DAFOR): you are outstanding, and you can be more outstanding. Persevere and strive for the best.
(A beginner DAFOR): you have some weaknesses that need your attention. Start with the items with a low score.
(A DAFOR under development): you need to review your study methods. Decide to change and ask for help.
Whoever acts righteously does so for himself; and whoever works evil does so against himself.
—The Quran, Fussilat:46
The next morning, I left home early—half an hour before the appointed time of the meeting. Perhaps I couldn’t wait any longer. The morning atmosphere was enchanting. They were the same alleys that I walked through every morning, but the serenity of a Friday morning, when no one goes to school or to work, made walking at that early time a unique, contemplative experience.
It had been such a long time since I had felt that level of tranquillity. All the beautiful things looked even more beautiful without the everyday noises. The sound of birds flying out every morning in search of food; the bright sunshine that brings you hope for the future; the fresh smell of the palm farms that surrounded our small village. All those things had always been there but only then did I see their beauty for the first time in a long while.
The morning calm brought peace to my heart. I slowed down and started thinking about my life. My thoughts were swinging between fear and hope: fear of failing to learn what would help me in my studies and hope that my meeting with Faisal would be the beginning of a real change in my life. I arrived at our meeting place a little early and contemplated that charming farm.
The Southern Farm was one of the biggest palm farms in our village. It was famous for the superior quality of its harvest of Khalas dates. On one side of the farm, you could hear the pump that drew water from the well and distributed it into small channels to irrigate all the palm trees. No other sound surpassed it except the chirping of the birds. There were small houses near the water pump where the farm workers lived. I could tell that they lived there from the clothes that were hanging all around their houses.
Faisal woke me from my reverie.
Faisal: Good morning.
Meshari: A good and happy morning.
Faisal: Right! How is our DAFOR today? Are you still excited about today’s meeting?
Meshari: DAFOR! No, not yet … Soon maybe and, yes, I’m very eager to learn from you, Faisal.
Faisal laughed and asked me to take a walk with him.
Faisal: How about we chat while walking among the palm trees? It’s a beautiful day, and the sound of nature is so refreshing.
I answered sarcastically: “That’s true. If it wasn’t for the noise from that pump and the romantic scenery of the worker’s clothes.”
We laughed and then he asked me: “Tell me, Meshari, what in your opinion would prevent you from becoming the DAFOR that you want to be?”
Meshari: Oh, so many things, Faisal, so many things …
Faisal: Tell me about them. I’m listening.
I started recounting all the obstacles that I thought prevented me from excelling, and he listened to me with the utmost concentration.
Meshari: I don’t think I was all that fortunate at school, particularly in the early years. For example, in primary school, we had a very bad maths teacher who didn’t teach us the basics of mathematics. He didn’t explain all the lessons required in the curriculum; he left out some essential ones. He didn’t care whether or not we understood the lesson, and he never corrected the mistakes in our homework. Because he couldn’t be bothered to teach me, I was always weak in maths. Tell me, Faisal, how will I be able to understand the complicated lessons at high school when the simplest maths problems, like division and finding common denominators, are too difficult for me?
Faisal: It would certainly be very difficult.
Meshari: I’m worried that my weakness in maths will continue into high school. Yesterday, our maths teacher told us that our first test will be in four weeks. I’m afraid of failing again. I’m anxious, Faisal!
Faisal: Don’t worry. I am sure you will be fine. Is there anything else preventing you from becoming an outstanding student?
Meshari: Certainly. I’m no better at English language. You see, Arabic is my native language. But I am not so good in English. It goes back to my early years in school again. The teacher wasn’t the only problem; the curriculum was extremely difficult. The school didn’t provide us with the opportunity to practise the language. All they cared for was making sure we got passing grades. Now that I’m close to going to university, where English is the official language, I’ve found out that my English is very poor. How will I be accepted at my chosen university without a good command of the English language? I’ve had to face all this on my own, Faisal, because my father wasn’t around to help me. He died before I started school. For years, I wished that he was around to help me with my studies and to teach me like he taught his students when he was a teacher. Sometimes I blame him for leaving me to carry those burdens all alone. May Allah have mercy on you, father.
Faisal: May Allah have mercy on him.
Meshari: Did you know my father, Faisal?
Faisal: Everybody knows the good people, Meshari. Do you have any other reasons?
[*Meshari: *]There are so many reasons, Faisal. No doubt some of them are well known. Time, for example. We all complain about the lack of time nowadays. Studying requires a lot of time, working hard, and staying up at night. I often sat exams without being well prepared because I didn’t have enough time. Plus, some of my friends never encouraged me to excel. Whenever I tried to improve my academic level, they would discourage me and make fun of my efforts. They always took me to the ‘Diwaniyah’^^1^^ to watch matches or play video games and chat for ages.
Faisal: So, in summary, your reasons for not excelling at school are some incompetent teachers, difficult curriculums, not getting enough opportunities to learn, lack of time, and your friends’ influence on you. Is that right?
Meshari: Yes. That’s what comes to mind right now. There might be other reasons that I don’t recall. So, Faisal, is there any hope for me or am I a helpless case?
Faisal smiled and said reassuringly: “There is hope. Listen, Meshari, what you are going to learn from me and the other four DAFORs will improve your academic situation in record time. Not only will your grades be higher, but your overall achievements will increase. You will have great faith in yourself, and you’ll never go back to those days of fear and hesitation.”
[*Meshari: *]I really hope this happens. You can’t imagine how worried I am. I’m worried that it will be too late for me and that I’ll end up living the kind of life that I don’t want.
Faisal: Don’t worry, buddy. I promise you that everything I said is going to happen if you decide to listen to everything we tell you and apply it.
[*Meshari: *]I promise to listen to everything you say and apply it carefully.
Faisal took a deep breath like someone getting prepared to say something important.
Faisal: Fine then. Listen, Meshari. There are five DAFOR habits that you are going to learn. The first letter of every habit spells the word DAFOR.
[*Meshari: *]Aha … I get it. What are the habits that these letters refer to?
Faisal: You will learn about them one after the other. Today, you will learn the first habit, which is: Determine your role.
[*Meshari: *]Determine my role?
Faisal: Yes, the first habit is Habit D because it revolves around determining your role: the role that you will assume to become the outstanding student that you want to be.
[*Meshari: *]Hmmm … I don’t get it. What do you mean by my role?
Faisal: That’s okay. Here’s Abu Rashid. Come with me.
Suddenly, Faisal got up and left me. He walked hurriedly towards a man who had appeared at the other end of the farm. Puzzled, I followed him, trying to understand what was going on. I shouted, “Faisal, wait! Do you mean Abu Rashid, the owner of the farm?” He muttered, “Yes, yes. Hurry up.”
Abu Rashid greeted us and invited us to sit with him in his open majlis^^2^^ which overlooked the farm. The majlis was plain and simple with old rugs surrounded by a low wall of bricks and dusty cushions. Its best feature was the view of the palm trees all around it.
As soon as we were seated, the two men engaged in a conversation that somehow resembled a television interview about planting palm trees. Faisal was asking one question after the other while Abu Rashid was answering him in great detail. They were talking to each other in perfect harmony while I remained mostly silent. I was astonished, and I tried to understand how, in the blink of an eye, our discussion about the habits of the DAFORs had turned into a lengthy dialogue about agriculture.
Faisal’s questions were about the stages of palm cultivation and the cultivator’s task in every stage, in addition to the challenges faced by the farmers in that arduous profession. Abu Rashid’s answers were clear and detailed. Although I did not know why I was present in the midst of a lengthy dialogue about agriculture on a Friday morning, I did learn a lot from that veteran farmer. He told us about the numerous cultivation stages throughout the long season, and he went into detail about the methods of combating pests and the risks that threaten the palm trees.
At the end of the conversation, Abu Rashid looked up to the tops of the palm trees, his eyes shining with pride and honour. He said: “My sons, this is our profession, and it has been our ancestors’ profession for 4,000 years. We have lived with the palms all our life. We know them well, and we love them, and they reciprocate. The palm is our life and our life is the palm.” With these words, Abu Rashid bade us farewell and returned to his work at the plantation.
The moment Abu Rashid was out of earshot, I asked Faisal indignantly, “What was that about?”
He smiled and ignored my question.
Faisal: Meshari, what do you think of Abu Rashid’s work? What is your opinion about a farmer’s profession? Is it a hard one?
[*Meshari: *]Patience is a virtue. May Allah help me. All right, Faisal, I’ll answer that. I have always thought that a farmer’s profession is an ordinary one. However, after our conversation with Abu Rashid, I am certain that it’s a tough job that requires a load of effort, patience, and endurance. And, as he said, a great deal of care and attention is required at each stage.
Faisal: Well done. A farmer must always be prepared for all the various stages, such as fertilisation, irrigation, pollination, bending the date bunches over the fronds, picking the ripe dates, harvesting and drying, among others. But tell me, who is responsible if the yield isn’t large or good enough?
I thought it over, then I said: “The farmer, of course. If he doesn’t get the desired results, it means he must have neglected his duties at some point.”
Faisal: Didn’t you listen, Meshari, to Abu Rashid when he spoke about the pests and risks that threaten the palms all year round? Didn’t you hear him talk about the frond borer, the red palm weevil, the dubas[* *]bug,^^3^^ and the birds that continuously attack the produce? Shouldn’t we excuse the farmer when he has to face all these problems?
[*Meshari: *]Not exactly. Abu Rashid mentioned that he, as a farmer, should always be responsible for the safety of his produce. It’s true that these dangers exist, but he should avoid them and take the necessary precautions. He mentioned, for example, the bagging process—where farmers put plastic bags over the ripe dates before picking them to protect them from the birds. Also, he should always keep an eye on the quality of the harvest and safety of the palms and get help from agricultural specialists if need be. The farmer is the first and last person in charge of his plantation and the good quality of the produce.
Faisal: This, Meshari, is the bottom line of the first habit. The first habit of the DAFORs is to determine your role. If you want to become a DAFOR, you must act like a farmer. On the road leading to excellence, you have to know your role and the responsibilities that go with it. Without knowing your role, you will never be able to change your academic situation, and you will get nowhere.
I argued: “But I do know my role. I know I want to be a DAFOR and that I have to work hard to get there.”
Faisal: Hmmm … that’s good, but let me elaborate. Usually, determine your role means that you realise that you are the first and last person responsible for becoming an outstanding student, no matter what the external hardships and circumstances are. This is exactly the same as the farmer who is responsible for his produce, regardless of the challenges. When I asked you, Meshari, about your reasons for not being an excellent student, you mentioned things like the teachers, the school, the curriculum, your friends, and your father’s death. Have you noticed anything about this list?
[*Meshari: *]Like what?
Faisal: That you are not in it! All the reasons are related to other people and issues beyond your control.
[*Meshari: *]But these are real reasons, Faisal. I didn’t invent them.
Faisal: That’s right, Meshari. But tell me; do you think all the outstanding students haven’t gone through similar difficulties and circumstances? Don’t they also have incompetent teachers sometimes? Don’t they go to the same schools and study the same curriculums? Don’t many of them sometimes suffer from tough family situations or health conditions? Do you know, Meshari, that many students suffer from their parents’ constant discouragement? You said that your father died, but your mother is still there to support you. Some children don’t have any support from their parents or siblings at all, and in spite of that, they are successful all by themselves. Don’t you agree that the challenges and dangers that the DAFORs face are real too?
[*Meshari: *]Yes, you’re right.
Indeed, what Faisal said was right. I felt as if time had stopped, and I recalled memories of my early school days—how I used to blame everyone except myself, how I hated some books for being difficult, how I was angry at some teachers on the pretext of their incompetence, how I always found excuses for not having enough time to study, how I would hang out with my friends instead of studying. Even my father, Allah have mercy on him, was also to blame. I remembered how I used to shout at my mother: “My father is the reason I’m average at school because he left me and didn’t teach me.” Yes, I wasn’t a responsible student like the others Faisal told me about. But this was going to change.
Faisal: Do you know what the secret is behind the success of the DAFORs in spite of all obstacles, Meshari?
[*Meshari: *]What is it, Faisal?
Faisal: They confronted the problem head on and considered themselves responsible for becoming outstanding students, no matter what the circumstances were. We can divide students into two kinds: responsible students and those who shirk responsibility.
[*Meshari: *]Shirk responsibility?
Faisal: Yes, indeed. Those who shirk responsibility are always looking for excuses and ways to justify not excelling in their studies. Some of their excuses might be real, but while they are constantly busying themselves with finding excuses, they avoid thinking about solutions to their problems. They are always complaining instead of making a real effort to solve their problems. They think of themselves as a victim of others’ mistakes and incompetence. On the other hand, responsible students ask themselves:[_ What should I do to solve my problems? How can I contribute to improving my knowledge of maths? What can I do to improve my English? _]Responsible students determine their role and put themselves in charge of their own success, regardless of all difficulties.
[*Meshari: *]I understand. What you are saying is very compelling, but I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, how can I solve my school problems like a responsible student? I can’t change a teacher whose methods don’t work for me, and I can’t change a difficult curriculum. Some things are out of my control.
Faisal: A good question, Meshari. To give you an answer, I need a stick.
[*Meshari: *]A stick? Is beating me with a stick a part of teaching me the secrets of excellence?
He burst out laughing and said: “No, not at all! DAFORs don’t need to be beaten. Why don’t you hold this stick and bear with me for a second?”
He handed me a stick that he found in the grass and then we walked to a sandy spot where we sat on the ground. He asked me to do something extraordinary.
Faisal: Draw a circle in the soil, Meshari.
I drew a big circle with the stick.
Faisal: Let’s call this circle the circle of concern. It is so called because it contains all the things that we are concerned about in life. For example, we all want to be healthy, on good terms with our loved ones, and, of course, we wish to be DAFORs at school.
Meshari: That’s right, but …
Faisal: And now, draw a smaller circle inside the circle of concern and let’s call it the circle of influence.
So I did what Faisal said.
Faisal gave me a serious look and said: “The circle of influence includes all the things that concern us but we have an influence on.”
[*Meshari: *]Okay … Can you explain that a little bit more clearly, Faisal?
Faisal: Let’s take the weather, for example. We all like the weather to be moderate and fair, so the weather is included in the circle of concern. Can we influence the weather? Certainly not! So the weather is inside the circle of concern and outside the circle of influence. We are concerned with it, but we cannot influence it. If we complain about the cold or the hot weather, the temperature isn’t going to change, is it?
[*Meshari: *]No, it isn’t. That’s true.
Faisal: What about our health? We are all concerned about being healthy, but can we take care of it and influence it?
[*Meshari: *]Of course, by eating healthy food and exercising, we can be healthy. Hmmm … I understand the difference between the circle of concern and the circle of influence now. The first contains the things I’m concerned with, and the latter contains the things I’m concerned with and also can influence.
Faisal: Well done. Many people fall into a very vicious trap, Meshari. They exhaust themselves and get upset when faced with issues that are out of their control. For example, many complain about the severity of the weather or the high rate of inflation while they can’t do anything about them. They spend a long time contemplating their past mistakes which they can’t change. Their fanaticism towards certain sports teams is exaggerated, and they forget that they cannot influence the results of the games and thus their nervousness is useless. Instead of worrying about things you can’t change or influence, it is much wiser to reflect on the things you can change in order to improve your situation.
[*Meshari: *]Wow … I’m listening to your words now and thinking about all the time that I wasted complaining about teachers and curriculums and circumstances. I was so wrong. As a matter of fact, my complaints never changed anything; they just made me sad and depressed the whole time. But tell me, Faisal, how can a DAFOR face conditions similar to those that I have been facing up to now?
Faisal: It’s a good question, and it shows that you are starting to assume the personality of a DAFOR. He considers himself the sole person responsible for his accomplishments and that’s why he will seek solutions to his problems. He also concentrates on things he can influence (which are contained within the circle of influence). He doesn’t shirk his responsibilities and doesn’t waste time and effort complaining. If he is confronted by a difficulty, he searches for someone to give him academic support, or he finds additional resources from the internet or other books. He might decide to spend longer hours studying until he grasps and understands the material. The important point is that he holds himself responsible for his success, whatever the circumstances. He will look for solutions instead of complaining and cursing his luck.
[*Meshari: *]This is a very important lesson, Faisal. After this conversation, I can now imagine how I shall look at studying from a completely different perspective. Tell me, Faisal, what else can a DAFOR do to determine his role and be responsible?
Faisal: Use the language of responsibility.
[*Meshari: *]The language of responsibility?
Faisal: Yes, the language of responsibility. A DAFOR addresses himself using responsible language and avoids language that depicts him as a victim or a weak, helpless person.
[*Meshari: *]Can you give me a few examples?
Faisal: Sure! Consider the following …
And Faisal started giving one example after the other and comparing the language of responsibility with its counterpart.
Faisal: What difference do you notice between the two languages?
[*Meshari: *]Hmmm … The language of responsibility implies power and control while the opposite one implies that its speaker is a victim of external circumstances. Is that it?
Faisal: Exactly! Well done, Meshari. That’s why, from now on, you have to watch your words when you are talking about your academic responsibilities. Make sure you use the language of responsibility and don’t make up excuses.
[*Meshari: *]I’ll do that, Faisal. I will remember to use the language of responsibility.
It struck me that a simple change in the words that we use can make such a difference. For example, the phrase I’ll try to study is very different from I have decided to study. The latter is more decisive and assertive. I also noticed that in each phrase, we either point an accusing finger at others, i.e. when we say “My friends distracted me,” or at ourselves, i.e. when we say “I stayed out late with my friends.” I realised that a DAFOR always points the finger at himself and bears the full responsibility. That was an important observation.
After finishing his explanation of responsibility, Faisal glanced at his watch, patted my shoulder and said: “All of that was part of the first habit of a DAFOR, the determine your role habit. If you want to become a DAFOR, be responsible for your success and concentrate on the circle of influence in your life. And be sure to use the language of responsibility.”
Smiling at him, I replied: “To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect to learn such an important lesson, Faisal. I am now more confident than ever before that you and your friends will teach me whatever is necessary to become a DAFOR like you.”
Faisal: You are most welcome, buddy.
As we got up to leave the farm, we glimpsed Abu Rashid from afar. He called out to us to take some ripe dates. What a delicious treat they were at the end of our pleasant meeting!
We agreed to have our next meeting in a week’s time at the house of Raed, one of Faisal’s friends. Faisal told me that I was going to like Raed a lot, so I looked forward to meeting him. I was more excited than ever to learn the second habit of the DAFORs.
After saying goodbye to Faisal, on my way home, I thought about the significant lesson that I had learnt. It was so important to determine my role in taking responsibility. I had to abandon my unhelpful way of blaming others and blaming circumstances.
As I was walking home, I thought to myself, There is really hope that I’m going to change and become a DAFOR like Faisal. The first meeting taught me such wonderful and poignant lessons. I’m so excited about the future meetings.
The moment I got home, I rushed to my mother to tell her in detail about my meeting with Faisal. She was very happy to see the excitement on my face—and most pleased when I gave her Abu Rashid’s dates too. She kissed my forehead and wished me luck. The happy moments that we share with our loved ones are the most beautiful.
I went into my room, opened my diary, and wrote down what I had learnt from the first habit: Determine your role.
Now that I have told you how Faisal taught me the first habit of the DAFORs, how about writing down some of your ideas about habit D (determine your role)? The exercises below will help you.
At the end of every chapter of my story, you will find similar exercises that will help you make steps towards excellence.
1. Who is responsible for your academic excellence? Write their full name.
2. The circle of influence and the circle of concern.
[*3. Write down some phrases that you might use sometimes, which are related to shirking responsibility, then write down corresponding phrases by using the language of responsibility. *]
But whoever desires the Hereafter and exerts the efforts due to it, while he is a believer, it is those whose effort is ever appreciated by Allah.
—The Quran, Al-Isra:19
One week after my meeting with Faisal at the farm, and on the very following Friday afternoon, I walked to his house and accompanied him to the house of Raed—the DAFOR who was going to teach me the second habit. We chose to go on foot, as the houses in our village were all close to each other, and we both wanted to talk together before seeing Raed.
On the way, Faisal asked me what I thought of the first lesson. I told him that after learning the secrets of the first habit and realising the importance of taking responsibility for my academic excellence, I had begun to think of education in a completely different way. Since our last meeting the previous Friday morning, I had started looking at my problems from a different perspective.
Then I told him how I had decided during the few days after our meeting to stop complaining about my circumstances and the people who failed me; I was looking at myself as responsible for achieving excellence regardless of the circumstances. I told him how, looking at the maths book on my desk and remembering the test, which was in four weeks’ time, I had said to myself, If you want a high grade in this test, Meshari, then it’s up to you alone, nobody else, to make it happen.
I explained to Faisal how, after changing my way of thinking, I had started reflecting on the things that I should do to get a high grade, and searching for solutions to help me review and learn the basics of mathematics. I had even revisited the primary and middle school curriculums and learned the multiplication and division tables and signs, etc. Even though I was very ashamed to ask some of my classmates to explain to me a few of the basics from past curriculums, I had plucked up the courage to ask for help. I had also checked some simplified lessons on the internet and tested myself to monitor my progress. I had spent one or two hours every day learning the basics of mathematics. It was such a good feeling to find myself improving day-by-day. I had noticed a change in me, as if I was reaping the fruits of what I had learnt from the first habit, even in the first few days of the lesson. I was now very eager to meet Raed and learn the second habit of the DAFORs.
I noticed a contented grin on Faisal’s face. He congratulated me on my quick response to his advice and announced the good news that the coming lessons would be equally pleasant and beneficial.
It is great to meet someone like Faisal; someone endowed with knowledge who devotes his time to others who are less knowledgeable, and is humble enough to assist and guide them. I used to be surprised by certain people who, after achieving excellence, distanced themselves from others, or kept their knowledge to themselves for fear of being envied or because of mere selfishness and indifference. Faisal was quite the contrary.
I asked him to tell me about Raed before reaching his house. He said that Raed was a third-year university student studying at the college of engineering at King Saud University in Riyadh. Raed usually spent his weekends with his family in Al Hasa, and he was one of the outstanding students in his class.
Soon after, we arrived at Raed’s house. It was a small, ordinary house that resembled the other houses in the neighbourhood. It had been constructed in the seventies when houses were built very close to each other, reflecting the closeness and solidarity between people at that time. Houses with worn walls covered both sides of narrow streets. When you walked between those houses, you could smell the fragrance of beautiful old times and the genuine spirit of days gone by.
Raed welcomed us with what seemed to me an affected smile and cold welcoming words. He asked us to follow him to his room in the attic. On our way up, I glanced at Faisal yearning for an explanation for this cool reception. He understood and whispered, “Don’t be alarmed; that’s the way he is.”
Raed’s room was large, and it covered a significant part of the house. Beside it was a private bathroom. In the corner of the room was Raed’s small bed with a neat brown bed cover. A small table stood near the bed, and in the adjacent corner, there was a desk and a wooden chair. Several exquisite oil paintings took up most of the room. That room was more like an atelier than a bedroom. I knew instantly that Raed was a gifted painter.
We sat on the floor which was covered by an old, thin carpet that made you feel as if you were sitting directly on the floor. Then Raed offered us a plate of peanuts and cold orange juice on a tray.
With his broad front, tapered mouth, and small eyes concealed behind spectacles, Raed’s appearance instantly suggested his acute intelligence. Everything Raed did indicated a lack of affectation. A few minutes with him were enough to make you realise that he didn’t care for formalities. He received us in his white trousers (similar to the trousers we were wearing underneath our thobe^^5^^) and an old multi-coloured shirt. Raed wasn’t one to overstate your welcome or prepare a feast for you. However, he wouldn’t belittle or insult you, either. He simply wouldn’t go to too much trouble to welcome you. I had heard once that all artists were odd in one way or another.
Raed looked at me and remarked: “So this is Meshari who …” Faisal hastily interrupted him: “Yes, yes. This is Meshari who … who needs our help as I told you.”
I was a little surprised, and I asked, “Have we met before today, Raed?”
Faisal: No, no … you two have never met, Meshari. Tell me, Raed, how is college?
Raed: Everything is fine. The study requirements are increasing as the semester progresses. But everything is good.
[*Meshari: *]It seems you love drawing, Raed.
Raed: That’s right; I love it a lot. Actually, I have loved it since I was a child. I used to draw almost everything—faces, palm trees, the sea, flowers, animals, cars, and cartoon characters. Everything!
[*Meshari: *]How wonderful, a DAFOR and an artist at the same time!
They both smiled, then Faisal interjected: “Raed, why don’t you tell Meshari what you usually do when you decide to draw a new painting?”
[*Meshari: *]But we’re here to talk about the secret habits of the DAFORs …
Faisal: Patience, buddy. Patience.
Raed started telling us about the steps that he usually followed before drawing a new painting. He said that before starting to draw, he would contemplate the blank canvas for a long time and visualise the painting that he was going to create with all its details. He saw the whole painting even before his pencil touched the canvas.
Raed explained with rare enthusiasm: “If, for example, I wanted to draw a grove, I would imagine the palm trees in it. I would look at the palm fronds and the dangling dates and see how the palms, with their different heights, were allocated in the grove. I would walk among them, smell them and listen to the singing birds. I would contemplate the grass on the ground and its green colour, feeling like I’m walking on it. Then I would look up at the blue sky and admire the few shy clouds. I live the painting before it’s created.”
Faisal and I were listening to Raed tell us passionately about the art of drawing, though I kept wondering when he would tell me about academic excellence.
Raed went on: “After the picture becomes whole in my mind, I divide the work into distinct stages. First, I trace the initial lines of the painting using a pencil. Then I paint a layer of light colours to prepare for the following stages. After that, I draw the background and the remote areas. For example, in the painting of the grove, I start by drawing the sky and the grass, then I draw the palm trees, beginning with their tall trunks, and lastly the fronds and the ripe dates.”
[*Meshari: *]What you are saying is really fascinating, Raed. I admire your passion. I have been looking at your beautiful paintings all around the room while listening to you. You must have experienced great joy while painting them, but please excuse my ignorance: What has painting got to do with academic excellence? Aren’t we here to discuss the secrets of excellence?
Smiling, Faisal and Raed exchanged looks.
Raed: You will probably be surprised to hear that painting has actually taught me how to achieve excellence. Do you like painting, Meshari?
[*Meshari: *]Hmmm … not much. Well, I do a bit, but I’m not really good at it.
Raed: You will learn today how to draw the most beautiful picture of your life.
[*Meshari: *]Me? Draw the most beautiful picture? How?
Faisal laughed at my stuttering and Raed smiled coolly and said: “Yes, Meshari. I shall teach you today how to draw one of the most beautiful pictures that you will ever see.”
[*Meshari: *]But how? And what has painting got to do with academic excellence?
Raed: Never mind. I’ll explain the relationship between painting and excellence. You have learnt from Faisal the first habit, which is: determine your role. This is the second habit, which is: ascertain your goals. It is the habit that starts with the letter A because it revolves around ascertaining the goals that you seek to achieve during your years of study. A is for ascertain.
[*Meshari: *]Can you please elaborate?
Raed: Very well. You must know, Meshari, that a DAFOR student should ascertain his goal at the start of each school year. A university student specifies the general average or GPA that he should obtain at the end of his university studies. A school student specifies his goals at the start of each school year. For example, a DAFOR at high school determines right from the beginning which university or universities he aspires to study at. This situation is very similar to the state in which a painter lives when he is looking at a blank canvas and imagining the completed picture before he starts drawing it. Thus, without specifying the end result, an artist wouldn’t be able to draw a beautiful picture—just as a student wouldn’t be able to achieve the desired level of academic excellence.
Faisal got up and looked at the paintings spread all over the room as if he had already heard Raed’s words several times before. Raed and I continued talking about the aims of the DAFORs.
[*Meshari: *]Now I understand. A DAFOR student ascertains his main goal at the beginning of the school year and strives to achieve it. Do you mind if I ask you, Raed, what your goal as a student was? In other words, what are the goals that a high school student like me should set for himself?
Raed: You remind me of the good old days, Meshari. My goal was to finish high school with grades that would get me accepted at the university that I’m currently attending. I determined which university I wanted to join, and consequently ascertained the grades that I should get to be accepted. I did all that right from the beginning of high school.
[*Meshari: *]You mean that you decided which university you wanted to join when you were exactly my age now?
Raed: That’s right.
[*Meshari: *]Wow! This is great, Raed.
After hearing Raed’s words, my thoughts were in a jumble. I asked myself why I had never thought along these lines and why it had never occurred to me what I wanted to achieve at the end of my high school studies. Do I now have the right to dream about joining a prestigious university? What if my academic standard doesn’t improve? What if …?
Raed: Hey, Meshari, what are you thinking about?
[*Meshari: *]Huh, about university—I mean, I’m still with you. Please go on.
Raed: I’ve told you about ascertaining your general goal at your current school stage. Without ascertaining this goal, all your efforts will be dispersed and lost. You’ll never attain the required level of excellence. Now, let me tell you about the provisional goals.
[*Meshari: *]The provisional goals?
Raed: Yes, as I’ve already explained to you, Meshari, the painter is not satisfied simply with visualising the completed picture. He must define the stages that will lead to achieving the goal and completing the picture. To reach the general goal, he must achieve provisional goals, and so does a DAFOR student. He realises the importance of specifying the provisional goals that will help reach the final goal. If he succeeds in achieving each small goal, in the end, he will reach that final goal.
[*Meshari: *]I don’t get it. Why don’t you give me some examples of your goals, Raed?
Raed: As I told you, my main goal was getting accepted at my present university, King Saud University. To secure my goal, I had to achieve three provisional goals: A minimum general percentage of 95% on graduation, a minimum grade of 85% in the aptitude test, and a minimum grade of * * 85% in the [* ]scholastic achievement admission[ *]test. I knew from the start that if I were able to achieve all these small goals, I would be accepted at this university, Allah willing.
[Meshari: *]It’s good that you ascertained the required grades in the aptitude and scholastic[ *]achievement tests and not only the school average.
Raed: This is an important point, Meshari. Most students concentrate a lot on the general percentage—much more than they do on the aptitude and achievement tests. The problem is that universities give more weight to the grades of tests that influence which students they decide to accept. That’s why many students with good school grades are not accepted at certain universities, due to their low grades in the aptitude and achievement tests. For that reason, my intention was to graduate from high school with the percentages that I have mentioned. Hence my chances of being accepted at the university that I chose were very high, and that’s what happened. Thanks be to Allah.
[*Meshari: *]You are right, Raed. Although we know that we are going to do these tests very soon, and we know that they are crucial if we are to be accepted at a university, we still neglect them and do not take them as seriously as the school exams. This is a big mistake, isn’t it?
Raed was impressed with my summary and said to Faisal, jokingly: “Faisal, it seems your friend will become a DAFOR in record time!”
Faisal, who was watching a picture of a rough sea, answered: “Certainly, didn’t I tell you that he was good DAFOR material?”
Yes, Raed’s words were true. We, students, focus too much on the general percentage and neglect the other assessment tests, just like we neglect other important issues. I learnt that fact from my meetings with the other DAFORs later on. It’s true that the general average is important, but it’s wrong to rely on it completely and ignore other matters which could eventually prove to be more important.
We drank some juice, then Raed continued to talk about the goals of the DAFORs.
Raed: So I told you that a DAFOR ascertains the main goal for the current academic year and then defines the provisional goals that will help achieve that main goal. A clear plan is also needed for achieving the provisional goals. For example, to improve my grades in the aptitude and achievement tests, I made a thorough plan to review past curriculums and enrol in the best training programmes that would help me attain my goal. To get a minimum general percentage of 95%, I planned to obtain an average higher than 95% in each academic year, because it meant that eventually, my high school general percentage would be what I wanted it to be. I did my best each school year to reach that goal.
Raed’s goals at high school
Meshari:I understand. A general goal followed by provisional goals and, lastly, a plan to achieve the latter.
Raed: Well done, Meshari.
[*Meshari: *]There is one problem, Raed. I have no experience in ascertaining goals, and I’m afraid that the goals I do ascertain will not be good ones. My question is: How do I know that my goal is a good one?
Raed: This is a very important question. I’m confident that you are on the right track to reach excellence. Meshari, you can ascertain a good goal if you follow the conditions for a SMART goal.
[*Meshari: *]Huh? The conditions of a SMART goal?
Raed got up and invited me to sit at his desk. Faisal joined us, and we watched while Raed drew several circles on a piece of paper. I thought, More circles?
Raed: Listen, Meshari, there are five conditions for a SMART goal. Without any one of these conditions, it is very probable that you will fail to reach your goal.
Raed drew a big circle in the centre and wrote inside it: SMART[* *]Goals. Then he drew five small circles around the big circle and wrote a word inside each circle. Put together, the first letters of the five words make the word SMART.
Raed: Let me first elaborate by using the goal that I set for myself at the university as an example. Ever since I started university and after careful thinking, I decided to set the following goal:
On 16th[* June 2009, I shall graduate from university with a minimum GPA of 3.5 out of 4*]
Raed: That is the goal I dream about and strive to accomplish. What is special about this goal is that it meets all the requirements of a SMART goal.
Faisal: Why don’t you explain the conditions of a SMART goal to Meshari, Raed? We should be leaving soon.
Raed: No problem. First, the goal has to be clearly specific, not general or ambiguous. I specified that I would graduate with this particular average. I didn’t say that I simply aimed to be excellent. This is being specific, Meshari. It lets you concentrate all your efforts exclusively to achieve your goal. Specifying the goal creates a feeling inside that there is a purpose to your existence and you must achieve it. This feeling will always push you forward. It will make it easy for you to ignore any distractions and preoccupations, and you’ll find yourself running towards the specified finish line. Because I specified my goal, I can endure all the constraints of studying, and I always try to overcome any obstacles and get nearer to achieving my goal.
[*Meshari: *]What you are saying is extremely important, Raed. You can’t imagine how encouraging your words are to me!
Raed: Hopefully, I can be of even more help to you, pal. The second condition is that the aim should be measurable. The best way of measuring is by using numbers. My aim at university is easy to measure, as the average is nothing but a number anyway. I can always tell if I’m on the right track or not. If my average falls below 3.5, then I know I’ve fallen short and that I should double my efforts; whereas if it exceeds 3.5, that will encourage me to persevere until I achieve my aim.
Faisal tried to embarrass Raed by asking him: “And what is your GPA now, Raed, after completing two years of university?”
Raed smiled confidently and diplomatically avoided Faisal’s prying: “I won’t tell you what my GPA is exactly Faisal, but it’s more than 3.5. Thanks be to Allah.”
We all laughed, and Raed continued: “The third condition is that a goal should be[* ]achievable[.*] A DAFOR challenges himself with a difficult-to-achieve aim, but he won’t take his chances with an impossible or nearly impossible one. I realise that it’s impossible for me to get a GPA of 4 out of 4 at the university. Another student might, but for me, it’s an unrealistic goal. Moreover, if I get a 3.5 average, all the jobs that I want will be available to me. That’s why I set big but realistic goals. I’m well aware that if I make a reasonable effort and practise the habits of the DAFORs—which you are learning now, Meshari—then I’ll reach my goal.”
[*Meshari: *]Allah willing. And what is the fourth condition, Raed?
Raed: The fourth condition is that the goal should be relevant. A student must specify the goals that are important to him and to his future, rather than waste his energy on unnecessary ones. For example, it’s not right for your goal to be watching all the league matches of the season or some television series. It’s not wrong to watch TV series and games sometimes for entertainment, but we shouldn’t regard them as principal goals, especially if you are a student doing your best to become a DAFOR.
Faisal: Meshari will become a DAFOR. No doubt about it.
Raed: I’m very sure about that. The fifth condition for a SMART goal is that it must be time-bound. This means that you should specify which point in time your goal should be achieved. Have you noticed, Meshari, how I specified the day of my graduation in my goal? I knew the official graduation date at our university and decided to set my sights on it. If the date for achieving your goal is clear in your mind, Meshari, you will be motivated to work harder to reach it by that day.
[*Meshari: *]Absolutely! Believe me when I say that I’ve already started thinking of the day I graduate from school, and I’m so excited about it.
Raed: That’s great, Meshari! In addition to the five conditions that form SMART goals, it is important that your goal be written down. After specifying your goal at your current school stage, you must write it down so that you see it every day. Look, Meshari.
Raed pointed to a piece of paper stuck to the wall over the desk, on which was written:
[*Meshari: *]You put your goal down in writing and keep it in front of you so you can always see it. This is fabulous, Raed. These words certainly urge you to study and help you tolerate the burden of studying.
Raed: That’s true. Writing your goal down means it is present in your mind at all times. You remember it every day and work continuously to achieve it.
I had never seen anything like that in my life. My feeling when I was reading those words was indescribable. I imagined having a similar piece of paper to write my goal on for my high school and how much that would motivate me. That was a great and poignant lesson. Writing down a few words and keeping them in front of my eyes would have such an effect on my determination and motivation. I immediately decided to do it as soon as possible.
Faisal: Raed, why don’t you tell him about the Harvard experiment?
[*Meshari: *]Harvard? Isn’t that a university in the United States?
Raed: Yes, that’s right. Why don’t you tell him the story, Faisal? You must remember the details better than me.
Faisal started telling me about an experiment that was conducted on some students at the renowned Harvard University. According to Faisal’s story, researchers asked some students whether they had any goals. They found out that 84% of the students didn’t have any goals; only 16% did. They asked the latter if they had written down their goals and only 3% answered that they had; the other 13% hadn’t.
Ten years later, long after those same students had graduated and were working, the researchers conducted a survey and asked them about their earnings. The researchers found that the students who had specified their goals without writing them down were earning twice as much as those who hadn’t had any goals at all. What was shocking was that the students who had specified their goals and written them down (the 3%) were earning ten times as much as all the others combined. Specifying their goals and writing them down had a great effect on their efforts to succeed in achieving them.
After hearing this story, I truly believed that specifying my goals and writing them down was not only important but vital.
We were silent for a while, and then Raed said in a calm voice: “You should know, Meshari, that goals which are not written down become merely … wishes.”
I sensed that it was time to leave, and I was about to thank Raed for his valuable advice when he surprised me with a question.
Raed: Meshari, are you ready to draw your picture?
[*Meshari: *]Oh, the picture! I almost forgot. What on earth do you mean, Raed? How can I draw the most beautiful picture ever when I’m not even good at drawing? I don’t even know how to hold the paintbrush!
Raed: You will draw your picture now. You won’t need any brush or paint. You will paint it with your eyes closed as well.
[*Meshari: *]What? Are you crazy, Raed? How can I draw a wonderful picture without a paint brush or paint and with my eyes closed?
Raed and Faisal laughed and tried to calm me down.
Faisal: You’re so impatient, Meshari.
Raed: Calm down, pal, and you’ll understand what I’m saying.
[*Meshari: *]I give in. Tell me how, and I’ll do it without a fuss.
Raed: All right. Now I want you to close your eyes and …
Raed began explaining to me how I was going to draw my beautiful picture and how right he was when he said it was going to be the most beautiful painting ever.
After closing my eyes, Raed asked me to visualise the day I would graduate from high school in detail; in particular, the day of my last exam. I did as I was instructed. I imagined the moment when I would submit my exam paper and leave the exam room. I felt my happiness after finally finishing school and my even greater happiness after achieving my goal and graduating with my desired average.
I imagined my eagerness to go to my mother, kiss her hand and forehead for supporting me, and make her happy with my success. I saw her tears of joy and heard her say: “You have made me so happy, my son. Your father must be so proud of you.” I felt my tears falling and was very touched at the sight of my mother, at having overcome all difficulties and achieving academic excellence. I felt confident that my results would qualify me to be admitted to the university of my choice.
In that picture, everything was clear—everything. I lived in that picture for some wonderful moments that it almost seemed real.
I opened my eyes and saw the smiles on Faisal’s and Raed’s faces. I told Raed that it was really the most beautiful picture that I had painted with the paint brush of my imagination and lived all its details.
Raed: This picture should always stay in your mind. Close your eyes from time to time and contemplate it again so that it refreshes your enthusiasm and perseverance and reminds you of the finish line. It will remind you of your main goal, Meshari.
With this valuable advice, Raed concluded his explanation about the second habit. To summarise, he said: “I have now told you about the second habit of the DAFORs: Ascertain your goals. If you want to become a DAFOR, you must know your goal. Specify your principal goal and your provisional goals, then make a clear plan for each of them. Make sure that you fulfil the five SMART conditions of each goal and write it down. And, finally, don’t forget the beautiful picture that you drew today: the picture of achieving your goal.”
I thanked Raed a lot for what he had taught me, and then we bade him farewell, hoping to see him again soon on another occasion—an art exhibition, perhaps. In all truth, Raed’s farewell was much warmer than his welcome. Maybe artists are like that—moody—but who knows?
On the way back, I discussed the important lessons that I learnt from Raed about ascertaining goals with Faisal, and he was glad that I was interested and that I had benefited from the meeting. Before saying goodbye, Faisal reminded me that our next meeting would be on the following Friday afternoon, at Al Shaaba Mountain and with a very special DAFOR whose name was Zeid.
Filled with happiness, I went home. I felt closer to becoming a DAFOR every day. It had been another useful and wonderful meeting from which I learnt a lot.
Tips from the DAFORs are closely related to our lives as students. Moreover, they are applicable right away, and once they are applied, their effect is felt immediately. That was what Faisal had implied when he said that I would feel the change right away.
I had decided to study for my maths exam upon my return from Raed’s house. But I hurried to my room first to write in my diary the summary of what I had learnt about the second habit: Ascertain your goals.
Now that you know my story with Raed, why don’t you write down some of your ideas about ascertain your goals?
1. My principal goal in the current academic year is:
2. Does your goal fulfil the five conditions for a SMART goal?
3. What are the provisional goals that will lead you to your principal goal? What steps should be taken in order to reach these goals?
4. Imagine, in detail, the moment you achieve your goal. Who will be with you? What will you be wearing? What will the atmosphere be like? How will you celebrate? Write all the details below.
Indeed, this is the great attainment. For the like of this let the workers work.
—The Quran, As-Saffat:60-61
A week had passed since our meeting with Raed. On the Friday morning we had arranged to meet, I received a text message from Faisal, reminding me about our appointment and asking me to wear my sports clothes for the meeting.
I went to Faisal’s house to drive to Al Shaaba Mountain with him, as agreed. On the way, I recounted to him the details of all the developments since my meeting with Raed about the second habit. I described to him that I had already set my goal for high school, which was to be accepted at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. I also explained how I had followed the five conditions for a SMART goal and made sure to ascertain the provisional goals (such as the general percentage and the aptitude and achievement grades) that would lead me to my principal goal. I then shared with him the plans that I had developed to reach each of these goals, like reviewing previous curriculums and getting to know the best ways to prepare for the General Aptitude and the Scholastic Achievement tests.
I even showed Faisal a photo that I had taken with my mobile phone of the piece of paper on which I had written my goal:
Then I described to Faisal how, every night, I visualised the moment I would achieve my goal, and how those few reflective minutes had a great effect on my determination and eagerness.
I also told him that I had set a goal of getting an average of at least 90% in the coming maths exam. Specifying this grade motivated me to study and prepare thoroughly for the exam. Day-by-day, by working diligently to learn the basics of maths, I had begun to better comprehend the current year’s lessons.
Faisal was overjoyed with my summary, and he assured me that if I continued in this manner, I wouldn’t only pass my maths exam, but I would also achieve all my academic goals for high school and beyond.
Just like the previous time, and before reaching the mountain, I asked Faisal to tell me about the new DAFOR called Zeid.
He smiled and said: “I’ll only tell you that he’s in his third year at King Faisal University where he is studying Business Administration. He is a DAFOR full of surprises. You will get to know his other attributes by yourself.”
Faisal’s continuous use of puzzles made me feel slightly uneasy, but I was sure that what he was hiding from me would be for my own good in the end.
We approached the majestic Al Shaaba Mountain; it is a mountain in the northeast of Al Hasa Oasis, adjacent to the villages of Al Shaaba, Al Iskan, and Juatha. It is considered one of Al Hasa’s tourist attractions—where young men practise their hobby of dune bashing over the sandy foothills and where families go camping and enjoy the picturesque sunset.
The sight of the mountain makes you stop and contemplate; it stands erect like a courageous sentinel protecting our lovely oasis from the sands of the nearby deserts. I looked at the lofty mountain and recalled its eventful history. Near the mountain, there were still traces of the Bani Bin Abdel Kaiss tribe that lived there during the early Islamic era. On the east side were the remaining ruins of the Juatha Mosque where the second Friday prayer was held in that same era. There, too, King Abdel Aziz had fought several wars to unify the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So many people had passed through this area, inhabited it for some time and left. But the mountain remained.
We arrived at our meeting place at four in the afternoon to find Zeid standing by his car by the side of the road adjacent to the mountain. Faisal was right when he said that Zeid was the master of surprises!
Zeid was short, thin and dark-skinned. His face was round, and his eyebrows—a little thick. At first glance, he didn’t strike me as being a DAFOR at all. He was careless about his appearance—ragged clothes, longish, unruly hair. The terrible mess inside his Honda Civic made me wonder if he was the DAFOR we were looking for. I remember that the back seat of his car looked like a bedroom because of the clothes and books that covered it.
He welcomed us naturally and enthusiastically—more enthusiastically than Raed—and looked inquisitively at my features.
Zeid: So this is Meshari? Glory to Allah!
[*Meshari: *]Yes, I’m Meshari. But why Glory to Allah?
Faisal: Hmmm … because you fit the description that I gave to Zeid exactly. Don’t ask too many questions, buddy.
I wasn’t convinced with Faisal’s reply. Now it was Zeid, and before him, it was Raed, both greeting me as if they knew me. Before I requested further explanation, Faisal quickly changed the subject.
Faisal: Well, now, Zeid, here we are in our sportswear. What have you got planned for us?
Zeid: We’re doing warm-up exercises first. Then we’ll start running.
Zeid: Yes, running. We shall run for a whole hour.
[*Meshari: *]Run for a whole hour? No one said to me we were here to run! I couldn’t run for a whole hour; never done it in my life!
Zeid: Come on now, Meshari. Stop wasting time.
Faisal and Zeid started doing their warm-up exercises, ignoring me while I stood between them, amazed and uncertain. I tried to seek some clarification but to no avail. I knew I had to join in. I started exercising with them, still not believing that I had to run for an hour in order to understand the third habit of the DAFORs.
Zeid mentioned that we were going to run for half an hour northward on the road adjacent to the mountain and half an hour back. When we started the run, I was shocked at what I saw!
[*Meshari: *]Zeid, are you all right?
Zeid: I’m fine. What do you mean?
[*Meshari: *]You’re limping!
Zeid: Yes, I am lame. What of it?
Faisal: Meshari didn’t know that, Zeid. Yes, Meshari, Zeid is not injured. He’s been limping since childhood.
[*Meshari: *]I apologise, Zeid. I didn’t know that.
Zeid: It doesn’t matter, my friend.
Meshari:Please excuse my prying, but how can you run for a whole hour when you limp?
Zeid and Faisal both laughed—as if I had asked a naïve question.
Faisal: Zeid’s hobby is running.
[*Meshari: *]God bless! But what made you love running, in particular, when you have a limp?
Zeid: I’ll tell you, my friend. I used to suffer from a failure complex throughout my childhood. My academic standard was low throughout most of my time at school. I even had to repeat two school years. In addition to my academic problems, I couldn’t play football—a game which I had always loved—because of my limp. The other kids always made fun of me because I couldn’t play and I was weak academically. I could only dream of becoming a famous athlete and an excellent DAFOR at school. I remember that I used to cry sometimes because I thought I was a failure and believed I always would be.
Zeid was talking about his childhood in a low, calm voice like the one I used when talking about my problems at school. In between sentences, he paused for some time, and as he remembered the times when he had cried, he was also silent for a while. I felt uneasy because I had asked him about his past. The silence continued until he started talking about his new hobby with increasing excitement and optimism.
Zeid: All that changed when I saw a television report about a marathon, which is over 42 kilometres. I saw that many disabled and older adults among the competitors were able to finish that exhausting marathon successfully. Without thinking, I said to myself, My mind is made up. I’m going to run a marathon. I didn’t know where to start or how to prepare myself, but I had categorically decided to run the marathon, no matter what. After meeting some guys who were interested in running, we started training, and now …
[*Meshari: *]But did you do it, Zeid? Did you finish the marathon?!
Zeid excused my interruption and proudly announced: “It is my pleasure to tell you, Meshari, that after three years of hard training, I realised my dream and finished the marathon.”
[*Meshari: *]God bless you! You covered 42 kilometres with a limp? This is a fantastic accomplishment, Zeid! Now you have a great hobby—running.
Zeid: Thank you, my friend. Running has helped me overcome my failure complex. Not only did I finish the race but this hobby has also helped me improve my academic standard greatly. After having an average of no more than 75%, I now get very high averages. Even my general percentage in high school reached 93%.
In amazement, I looked at Faisal, surprised that a student with an average of 93% might consider himself a DAFOR. I thought a DAFOR usually flies up in the high nineties and even comes close to a hundred from time to time.
Zeid noticed my surprise, and he explained to me: “I know you find it strange that I’m a DAFOR. But don’t forget that I raised my average by 18% in a few years. My standard has kept on rising during my university years, and I shall graduate with honours. A DAFOR, Meshari, is not necessarily one who obtains a 99% average. He is one who can continuously improve his academic level, outdo his previous performance and then maintain the high levels that he has reached.”
[*Meshari: *]You’re right, Zeid. This is an important point. We students think of a superior student as one who only ever gets very high grades. Now I realise that a student who gradually improves himself is, in fact, achieving the superiority he deserves. He always outdoes himself.
Zeid: Well said, Meshari. That is a good explanation of what I wanted to say.
How I needed to hear those words. It meant that I didn’t have to reach the top immediately but that all I had to do was improve myself continuously, little-by-little so that today would be better than yesterday and tomorrow would be better than today. This way of looking at things has helped Zeid to raise his average.
Zeid’s words were very useful, but I still had many questions running through my mind.
[*Meshari: *]Tell me, Zeid, what has running got to do with becoming a DAFOR and achieving academic excellence? I haven’t noticed any connection between them. I don’t know why you two insisted on talking while we were running.
Zeid: Very well, Meshari. Now I shall tell you about the third habit of the DAFORs. You will then see the connection between running and excellence. The third habit is Habit F: Feel and think like a winner.
[*Meshari: *]What do you mean, Zeid? How will feeling and thinking like a winner help me to achieve my goals?
Zeid: I’ll explain. You learnt from Raed that a DAFOR student must ascertain his goals. However, ascertaining them is not enough if you are not mentally and emotionally ready to pursue them relentlessly. Therefore, feel and think like a winner is the habit of preparing oneself psychologically to embark on the journey of success and achieving goals. It is quite similar to our running now, Meshari. In the beginning, we specified our goal, which was to run for a whole hour on the road adjacent to Al Shaaba Mountain. It was a clear target. But were we psychologically ready for it?
[*Meshari: *]I understand. You mean that specifying a goal is one thing and being mentally and emotionally ready to achieve it is another, right?
Zeid: Exactly! It seems that you are going to make our mission easy, and we will finish with the third habit before the hour is over.
[*Meshari: *]I hope so. We’ve only run for a few minutes, and I’m starting to get tired!
Faisal and Zeid laughed and announced that we were not going to stop running until the hour was up. What good news that was! I had expected to get tired from running, but not so quickly. My fast heartbeat and rapid breathing made me a little suspicious of the idea of completing this run. I felt I might faint before the end. However, my interest in knowing the secrets of the third habit distracted me a little, and I kept going.
Zeid: The first thing you should learn from this habit, Meshari, is to have faith.
[*Meshari: *]To have faith?
Zeid: Yes, to have faith. As a DAFOR, you must rely on Allah and believe deep down that YOU CAN achieve your academic goals. Can you imagine a runner starting a race and not believing that he can finish it? How do you think that would affect his performance? Wouldn’t the self-doubt have a negative effect on his speed and competitiveness?
[*Meshari: *]I’m glad you brought that up, Zeid. It’s true that I ascertained my goals for my high school right after meeting with Raed, but I was always wondering whether I could really achieve them. As you know, I’ve never been superior; my intelligence and mental abilities have always been ordinary.
Zeid: Of course, it’s normal to have these concerns. But do you know modern science has proved that people can strengthen their mind gradually and build up their intelligence? Many geniuses in the history of mankind were considered foolish or even losers at the start of their lives, but their belief in their abilities turned them into geniuses who left their mark in history.
Faisal: Why don’t you give Meshari some examples of those geniuses, Zeid?
Zeid: Of course. Take, for example, the genius physicist Albert Einstein. Did you know that he started speaking when he was four years old and reading when he was seven? His parents and teachers thought he was mentally retarded and antisocial. He was even expelled from school. No one ever thought that that retarded child would become one of the greatest physicists in history.
I temporarily forgot my exhaustion and listened carefully to what Zeid was saying. That fact was unknown to me: Einstein hadn’t been a DAFOR from the beginning of his life!
Zeid: The same goes for the famous inventor Thomas Edison—inventor of the electric light bulb and many other inventions that changed the world. Did you know, Meshari, that Edison’s teachers described him as very stupid and complained that he could never learn anything? There is also Walt Disney, founder of the renowned Disney company.
[*Meshari: *]The one that invented Mickey Mouse?
Zeid: Yes, yes. That same man is the founder of one of the most creative enterprises in the world. In his youth, he was fired from his job at a newspaper because he lacked imagination and bright ideas.
Meshari: Is that true?”
Zeid: Yes, Meshari, that’s true. Many other inventors and geniuses had very modest beginnings, but they were able to reach the top by believing in their abilities to develop and improve themselves and thus reach their goals.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought, Is it possible those geniuses, whose names are recorded in history, had such beginnings?
I asked Zeid eagerly: “Do you mean that I should not judge my academic level based on my past? That I can be more intelligent in the future? Do you mean that the past doesn’t necessarily define the future?”
Zeid: Of course. I was weak at school and sports for many years. Now, I’m much better at both. The reason was my reliance on Allah and my belief that I was capable of improvement. As I told you, Meshari, these are scientifically established facts. The human brain is capable of considerable evolution, especially in the stages of childhood and adolescence. So, don’t judge your future standard against your current one. You don’t know what capabilities and skills Allah has bestowed upon you. You must believe in yourself. Your faith will be your main motivation for reaching your goal and the fuel that will ignite all your energy to do that.
Zeid’s story was very touching. He had been facing challenges from very early on in his life—challenges that were much harder than mine. In spite of them, he is now living the life of a DAFOR and improving himself year after year. Time appeared to stand still for a moment, and I thought, Why can’t I be like Zeid? What do I lack? Yes, as he said, it’s faith. The only difference between us is that he believed he was capable of developing and achieving his goal. I must believe in myself too. I must have faith!
We reached halfway and turned to go back to the starting point. I felt very tired and thirsty, and my knees hurt, as I wasn’t used to running for such a long time. What prevented me from stopping was the desire to challenge the power of my faith and my eagerness to know the other secrets of the third habit. Deep down, however, I was telling myself to stop, and I doubted I would complete the run with my friends—exactly as I had always done at school; I was repeating the phrases of the fear of failure.
[*Meshari: *]How I hate this voice!
Faisal: What voice, Meshari?
[*Meshari: *]There’s a nagging voice in my brain. Whenever I try to do something hard, it says: You can’t; you won’t be able to … When I defined my goals a few days ago, it told me:[_ I don’t think you’ll get there.] Now, as we are running, I can hear it saying: [_Stop! Are you crazy? You have never run for that long in your life.] I’m sorry, my friends, I know I must have faith as you said, Zeid, but I don’t know how to silence this voice which has always discouraged me and told me to give up.
I glimpsed Faisal and Zeid smiling upon hearing my complaint, which unnerved me a little. But Zeid quickly gave me one of the most important pieces of advice on the third habit.
Zeid: It is the sceptic.
[*Meshari: *]What is the sceptic?
Zeid: The voice inside you that doubts your capabilities is called the sceptic. It’s a nickname that we give to the negative, sceptical thoughts that sometimes cross our minds, as students. Each one of us has his own sceptic.
[*Meshari: *]Please explain more, Zeid.
Zeid: Very well. You should know, Meshari, that people, in general, tend to think negatively. Several studies have confirmed that we think negatively far more often than positively. It might be due to the considerable amount of negative statements that we’ve been hearing since our early days from parents, friends, teachers, and news bulletins, among others. That’s why we got used to repeating them automatically. The problem is that we repeat them to ourselves too, and this has created a sceptic inside each and every one of us, who doubts our abilities and uses the most negative and discouraging words.
[*Meshari: *]How bad is the sceptic, Zeid?
Zeid: It is powerful because that hidden voice inside us has the power to destroy our faith. When students lose faith in their ability to achieve their goals, they lose the will to try and surrender to defeat.
[*Meshari: *]I get it now. What’s the solution, Zeid? How can I overcome this sceptic inside me?
At that moment, we were passing by a sand-covered pitch where some youths were playing football. We saw how one of the strikers missed an easy chance that made him yell out in anguish. I watched the game in silence, not wishing to interrupt Zeid.
Zeid: That’s a good question. The solution is to make sure you speak to yourself using positive, encouraging language as if you are speaking to your best friend.
[*Meshari: *]How do I do that?
Zeid: If your best friend told you about his academic goal and some time later you heard him say that he was afraid that he wasn’t going to achieve his goal and that he was doubtful of his ability to go on, what would you do, Meshari?
[*Meshari: *]I would support and encourage him and help lift his morale so he would persevere.
Zeid: Exactly! We usually speak to the friends we care about in a positive way to support and encourage them, but we speak to ourselves in a less positive way. Did you see how that striker regretted his chance to score a goal and how his friend went over to encourage him and raise his morale? A DAFOR student, Meshari, speaks to himself positively, just like that player who spoke to the friend who had missed his chance.
[*Meshari: *]I understand. I must speak to myself in the same way that I speak with my best friends: I must be positive and encouraging.
Zeid: And to do that, a DAFOR writes down positive, encouraging phrases to silence his fears and doubts. Writing is essential. I suppose Raed mentioned to you the importance of writing, Meshari, didn’t he?
Faisal: Yes, he did.
Zeid: Good. Then you have to write them down and put them in a place where you can always see them. For example, you can put them on your desk or as a background on your mobile phone. Then you should repeat them often, at any time and in any place. This continuous repetition—which may sound a bit strange at first—can convince your mind that you really are capable of reaching your goal. Your brain accepts the idea, treats it as a fact, and rejects any negative doubts in your own abilities. Tell me now, Meshari, do you still doubt that you can finish this hour of running?
[*Meshari: *]Oh! How I wish this hour were over. I’m exhausted, but I won’t give up!
Zeid and Faisal were happy with my insistence, and they urged me to go on. Then Zeid gave me some examples of positive statements used by the DAFORs to help them feel and think like winners. He advised me not to use them all but to choose some that would silence the voice of the sceptic inside me. He also urged me to write down any other positive statements that I found suitable.
Now I can face my obstacles by repeating similar phrases to myself. How I needed that advice in the days that preceded tests—when I was possessed by fear and self-doubt. In preparation for the upcoming maths test, I repeated to myself, I shall excel in this test; I shall excel in this test …
Faisal: We have run for forty minutes, Zeid. Not long to go. Please, can you finish explaining the third habit?
Zeid: Certainly. I want to ask you a question, Meshari. You have now been running for more than forty minutes. What made you do it, even though you’ve never done it before?
[*Meshari: *]I wouldn’t have done it without your presence and encouragement.
Zeid: Okay. If you had to run with two other friends who were less active and eager than yourself, and halfway they decided to stop, because they lacked motivation, and left you to run alone, do you think you would have continued on your own? Or do you think you would have stopped and stayed with them?
[*Meshari: *]Frankly, I don’t think I would have continued the run alone. I suppose their surrender would have affected me and made me stop and stay with them.
Zeid: That’s fine, Meshari. This is, in fact, an important aspect of feel and think like a winner. Let me explain it to you. A DAFOR chooses friends with great care. Bad company pulls a student down to the depths of laziness and failure. Good company lifts to the heights of success and excellence.
[*Meshari: *]Yes, yes. We have often heard at school that a bad friend makes you do bad things, and a good friend makes you do good things.
Zeid: I know you’ve heard that before, but you must take the matter more seriously, Meshari. A friend’s influence is much more critical than people expect. We acquire a significant part of our behaviour from the company we keep. A scientific study has found that if a student keeps company with successful and superior students, he is more likely to seek success and superiority for himself, and consequently, the school results will be better. The opposite is also true. The same study found that if a student keeps company with lazy or careless students, he becomes unmotivated too, and consequently, school results drop. It’s strange that the psychological influence of a friend is often not taken seriously, and it occurs without us realising it or choosing it. So, if you want to become a DAFOR, you must limit your relationship with those who are not interested in success and are satisfied with failure.
[*Meshari: *]Some of my closest friends at school are lazy. Do you want me to cut them off completely?
Zeid: You don’t necessarily have to cut anyone off. All I’m saying is that you should limit your relationship with them so that they cease to be your constant companions and thus affect you without you knowing it. Make sure you mix more with the hard-working students than the underachieving ones.
[*Meshari: *]I get it. I hope that not all my hard-working friends are interested in this exhausting sport, though!
We all laughed and glimpsed Faisal’s and Zeid’s cars from afar. A few minutes more and we would reach the end of this tiring lesson.
I thought about my current friends. Some were ambitious and inspiring, never hesitating to help me, while others were careless and not interested enough in their studies. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time with the second kind; we used to get together at the Diwaniyah and spend long hours playing and watching games. After talking to Zeid, I knew that was one of the reasons I fell behind with my studies. It was true. They had always discouraged me and prompted me to delay studying and doing my homework. How hadn’t I noticed that before!
It was almost sundown, and the sun’s rays cast a reflection over the western side of the mountain in a breath-taking redness that added to its glory and dignity.
Zeid: I told you, Meshari, about the importance of having faith in your ability to succeed, and that to have this faith, you must face your doubts and misgivings. You can do that by talking positively to yourself and choosing good friends who will push you to succeed. You will be motivated to persevere and achieve your academic goal. The last important point in this habit, Meshari, is overcoming obstacles. A DAFOR must know how to overcome obstacles.
[*Meshari: *]Can you explain what this means?
Zeid: Certainly. The path to success, Meshari, will be rough and bumpy. You might fall and end up in the dust. You might make a watertight plan to reach your goal, but something could happen and threaten your chances of succeeding. For example, you may not get the grade that you wanted in a certain exam, or you may get a grade below what was required in one of the assignments. You should know then that it isn’t the end of the world. You must feel and think like a winner and accept that you have fallen. So, you must get up right away and continue in spite of the pain, just like a runner who falls during the race but gets up immediately to continue instead of crying over the few seconds that were lost falling.
[*Meshari: *]But I do get distraught when I encounter such problems, Zeid. If the result of one of the tests was bad, I would be mentally affected, and feel less motivated in the subsequent days.
Zeid: Most students face a similar problem. I, as a runner, expect to fall at any minute. I might trip on a stone or be hindered by another runner unintentionally. But I prepare myself for such occurrences so that I don’t break down if they do happen and I get up immediately to continue the race. A DAFOR must expect a problem to occur at any time and must be ready to get up and carry on.
Faisal: Time is almost up, Zeid. Are there any other points you would like to clarify?
Zeid: No. I have finished talking about the third habit: feel and think like a winner. If you want to become a DAFOR, you must believe in your ability to reach your goal and develop your intelligence and understanding. Also, you have to talk to yourself using positive language, make sure that you mix with hard-working people, and be mentally prepared for the hurdles and obstacles that will come your way.
When we approached the finish line, Zeid shouted: “It seems we have a few minutes left before reaching the car park. Are you tired, Meshari?”
Breathlessly, I replied: “I’m very tired indeed, but I can’t believe that I’m just about to complete a whole hour of running. Our interesting conversation about feeling and thinking like a winner has helped me to go on. Thanks be to Allah we’re here!”
By the end of that strenuous hour, rich with information and experiences, my meeting with the third DAFOR came to an end. Zeid was, indeed, full of surprises. Straight away, I sat on the ground to catch my breath, not believing that I had actually run for a whole hour without being prepared in the slightest. I thanked Zeid very much and offered to accompany him on another run sometime.
In the car, I expressed to Faisal my surprise with that really different DAFOR and the wonderful lessons he gave me to have the mindset of a winner. As usual, we agreed to meet a week later with another DAFOR whose name was Shehab. He was the only one among the five DAFORs who had completed his university studies.
Overjoyed, I went back home, and I was sure that what I had learnt from Zeid would help me a lot to achieve excellence. Yes, I did have a weak, uncertain and doubting spirit. However, Zeid’s advice on the spirit of winning ignited a fire in me that would illuminate my way to determination and perseverance. At that moment, I found myself feeling much nearer to my goal than ever before.
I looked for my mother and found her working in the kitchen. I kissed her hand and, surprised, she asked me: “You look so tired, son. I guess you were playing football. Didn’t you tell me that you were going out to meet your friends, the DAFORs?”
I told her about my strange meeting with Zeid and that my self-confidence was growing day-by-day, and that my meetings with the DAFORs would help me so much—as I learn their habits.
I went to my room to write down in my diary the points that I had learnt about the third habit: Feel and think like a winner.
Now that I’ve told you about my story with Zeid, the runner, and his journey to excellence, the time has come for you to write your ideas about feel and think like a winner:
1. Write three positive and encouraging phrases that you will always repeat. Write them in several places so you can read them all the time.
2. Write down the names of three friends who will help you succeed and make sure you spend more time with them.
3. Write a story about a person that inspired you with their success and how they overcame their obstacles.
Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times.
—The Quran, An-Nisa:103
The days quickly passed by after my meeting with Zeid. In spite of all the muscle pain caused by the long and unexpected run, our discussion about the third habit had left a great effect on my intention to realise my dream: to become a DAFOR. I started talking to myself positively, and whenever I doubted my ability to understand a lesson, I resorted to self-encouragement by talking to myself positively as I would do with a best friend.
With regard to my friends, I decided to limit the amount of time that I spent with the unmotivated ones and give more time to my hard-working classmates who, like me, aspired to improve their academic standard. We started studying together and helping each other to solve problems. Because of them, studying became easier and less boring.
I particularly needed to change my pessimistic opinion of myself and my obsessive fear of failure. I avoided friends who only wanted to play and waste time. In a matter of days, I felt the effects of that change and dreamed about the moment I would achieve my goal. I felt confident that I could do it.
As for the coming maths test, I was more certain then than ever before that I would pass with decent results. The long hours of studying and my increasing trust in myself would certainly help me succeed.
On the night before meeting Faisal and Shehab, I opened my diary and reviewed what I had learnt from the other three DAFORs. I realised that I had learnt valuable lessons through their inspiring personal experiences. I kept wondering what the next day would bring, what the fourth habit would be, and what surprises the new DAFOR would have in store for me.
I looked at the books scattered on my desk and addressed them defiantly: I shall be a DAFOR. I shall learn your sciences, delve deeper into your knowledge and excel in my studies.
The next morning, Faisal called to tell me not to eat anything until it was time for our afternoon appointment. It was a very strange request, but I promised to comply. He picked me up in his car that afternoon, and we drove to Al Mubarraz city, one of the biggest cities in Al Hasa Oasis. When I asked him where the meeting would take place, he said it was at a modern café in the well-known Al Najah Street. I was very excited because I was really quite hungry. Faisal assured me that I was going to enjoy the variety of food at that café.
To prepare me for the meeting, Faisal told me that the fourth DAFOR, Shehab, was different from the rest. He was no longer a student, as he had graduated the previous year and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. When I asked him whether Shehab was working or not, he answered with enthusiasm, “He is a businessman now, Meshari!”
Al Najah Street is one of the most prominent streets in Al Hasa and has certainly become the most famous over the last few decades. It is a commercial street running through the centre of some vibrant neighbourhoods like Azkijan, Al Maslakh, and Al Yahya. It also connects the two biggest cities in Al Hasa: Al Mubarraz and Al Hofuf. Commercial activities have prospered at Al Najah Street for more than thirty years now. It boasts a number of restaurants, tailors, boutiques, bakeries, and certainly, my favourite place—the market of Abu Ashra, where everything is sold for ten riyals or less.
When we entered the café, I was drawn to its welcoming ambience. It was a café designed for young people. The tables and chairs had modern designs and colours, and the walls were adorned with marvellous graffiti drawings and photos of some of the most high-profile athletes in the world. There were also wide screens showing sports competitions, and other screens were being used by the young men for video games. It was a youthful atmosphere where you found, here and there, groups of young men laughing or supporting their friends who were playing a crazy PlayStation game. Before we even sat at our table, I had a feeling that the meeting was going to be extremely agreeable.
Shehab’s appearance was as modern as the café, starting with his stylish haircut, his carefully chosen attire and ending with his maroon shoes which matched his red shirt. He was also very tall with an athletic physique. It seemed that Shehab was not only a DAFOR but also a permanent gym member. I was drawn to his powerful and assured personality when he was talking to the waiter and to us. The first few minutes of the meeting were strange, though.
Shehab: So then, you are Meshari! I’ve been longing to meet you for some time.
[*Meshari: *]Meet me? But you don’t even know me.
Faisal: Yes, yes, Meshari … hmmm … I have spoken to Shehab about you before. How do you think I would have been able to arrange this meeting otherwise?
[*Meshari: *]Yes, of course. You told Shehab about me—just like you did Zeid and Raed. I’m sure you have told the fifth DAFOR about me already.
Again, I wasn’t convinced by Faisal’s reply. The way the DAFORs reacted upon seeing me confused me immensely. I wanted to know the secret behind their strange words, but I thought I’d let it pass this time—for the last time—to focus on the matter at hand, which was the fourth habit. As he did every time, Faisal started talking about other things, or so it seemed to me.
Faisal: Tell me, Shehab, how is your new job at Saudi Aramco?
[*Meshari: *]Saudi Aramco? I thought you said he was a businessman.
Faisal: Oh, that’s right! I didn’t explain to you. Shehab was hired by Saudi Aramco right after he graduated. But he’s also a businessman because …
Shehab: Because I’m the owner of this café, Meshari.
[*Meshari: *]Ah … You’re the owner and manager here? God bless … God bless you, Shehab! This is a marvellous place, but how? How …
Shehab: I’ll tell you how, my friend. After graduating from university and despite getting a good job, I wanted to try my hand at running a business alongside the job. So I thought of running a youth café which would satisfy my ambition and give me the chance of becoming a successful businessman one day.
Faisal: But Shehab, how did you fund this project?
[*Shehab: *]I’ve been asked this question by so many people. Actually, I borrowed a sum of money from my father, and I bought this café from its previous owner, who had originally established it and wanted to sell it, as it didn’t prove to be a successful project at the time. Later on, I made some adjustments to make the café as you see it now.
I couldn’t believe my ears. An employee at the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) and a successful business owner at the same time! He achieved all that, and he was still in his early twenties. An inspiring success story indeed! I, too, wanted to have a successful career like Shehab, but before that, I had to know the secrets of the DAFORs, which was the reason for me being there.
[*Meshari: *]I wish you luck and prosperity, Shehab. Faisal, can we please broach the subject?
Faisal: Yes, but please be patient. Tell us, Shehab, how did you turn this café from a failing business to a successful one? Did you make many changes to the décor to attract customers?
Shehab: As a matter of fact, I didn’t. The changes were simple. The main difference was—in all modesty—my management of the place. The previous owner left all the responsibility to his employees and didn’t devote enough time to deal with problems. As for me, I run the place myself.
I bit my lip, thinking to myself, Here they are, chatting about running cafés and managing projects while I’m at my wit’s end, waiting to discuss the subject. And where is the variety of food that Faisal promised me? Isn’t it good manners to offer us something to eat? Where is his hospitality?
[*Meshari: *]Faisal, the subject, please …
Faisal: Oh, yes, of course. Let me ask you, Meshari, what do you notice about Shehab’s life choices?
[*Meshari: *]Hmmm … I don’t know how that relates to our subject today, but I will answer your question. The first thing that strikes me is that his life must be full of many responsibilities from his two jobs. He is an employee of a company and the owner of this great place that he runs himself. Moreover, he has a good, athletic build which suggests to me that he spends a great deal of time training. It looks like he makes use of every minute of his time, or he wouldn’t be able to do all that.
Shehab: And, added to that, I’m an only child. I have no siblings to help me take care of my parents.
[*Meshari: *]May Allah bless you. What is the secret behind your productivity, Shehab? How can you do all that? You are too young for all these responsibilities.
Shehab: The secret lies in the big stones, Meshari.
[*Meshari: *]The big stones?
Shehab: Yes, the big stones. The big stones of time. With that, I’m going to introduce the fourth habit of the DAFORs to you. The fourth habit, Meshari, is: organise your time. It starts with the letter O because it revolves around the importance of organising your time if you want to become a DAFOR.
[*Meshari: *]That’s great! I’ve always wanted to learn practical ways to help me manage my time. I thank you guys with all my heart for the wonderful habits you are teaching me.
Faisal: Don’t thank us now. Do it when you become a real DAFOR.
[*Meshari: *]I will, hopefully. But tell me, Shehab, what’s the connection of the big stones with organising your time?
Shehab: I meant the stones of time. Wait, I’ll be back.
Shehab left us and went into the kitchen. I tried to find out what was going on from Faisal, but he was elusive. Meanwhile, four young men sat at a nearby table equipped with a PlayStation console, and they started playing football with great excitement. For a moment, I wished I was playing with them at their table instead of sitting at our table, learning the habits of the DAFORs.
Shehab emerged, carrying an empty glass bowl which resembled a fish bowl. He placed it on the table and put beside it some big stones and a bag full of sand. Stunned, I looked up to see a sly grin on their faces.
I asked what was going on, but they ignored my question. Shehab then emptied the sand into the glass bowl until it was almost full. There was very little space left.
Shehab: Now that the sand has filled up most of the bowl, do you think you can add the big stones too?
[*Meshari: *]No. Impossible. There is very little space left.
Shehab: Why don’t you try to fit them in?
I grabbed the stones and tried to squeeze them inside. I was only able to fit in three or four before the bowl was full. It was impossible to fit any more in.
[*Meshari: *]Hmmm … I’m trying, but I can’t put any more stones in. The space is too tight.
Shehab: It doesn’t matter. Now, let’s try something else. Why don’t we put the big stones in the bowl first and see what happens?
Shehab tipped the sand back into the bag, and the bowl was empty again. Then he put all the stones inside it and asked me to empty the bag of sand into the bowl that contained the stones. What a surprise I was in for!
[*Meshari: *]Wow! The bowl has accommodated all the sand, even though it was full of stones. Look how the sand fits between the stones.
Shehab: That’s weird, isn’t it?
[*Meshari: *]Indeed! That’s very weird. It’s like magic. What is the purpose of this experiment, Shehab?
Shehab: I’ll explain. The glass bowl symbolises the time that we have. The bowl has a limited capacity, and so does our time in this world. The big stones symbolise the important missions in our lives; the things that we should achieve to be successful and happy. For example, you can assume that this stone represents studying and that one represents family obligations, and that stone over there represents worship duties, and so on … Because they are important issues, we must prioritise them and devote adequate time to them before embarking on other tasks. It means we should find a place for the big stones in our bowl of time.
[*Meshari: *]I understand, but what about the sand, Shehab? What does it represent?
[* Shehab:*] The sand represents insignificant things. It is a symbol of unimportant or less important issues such as spending a lot of time using social media, oversleeping, playing, etc.
[*Meshari: *]Ah, so the bowl is a symbol of the limited time in our lives while the big stones are a symbol of the most important issues to us and the sand symbolises the less important issues? That’s clear.
Shehab: And this is the bottom line, my friend. The main lesson in organising your time is to make the most important things your priority. Do not procrastinate on the pretext that you are occupied with less important things. That’s exactly what happened in the first experiment. If you put off doing the most important things (the big stones) and concern yourself with the insignificant things, you might not find enough time to do what’s more important. Whereas, if you devote your time to attend to the big stones and make sure you accomplish them before anything else, you will succeed in life and still find time for the sand.
[*Meshari: *]I understand. Is this one of the secrets of your success, Shehab?
Shehab: Yes. This is one of the secrets of success that I’ve learnt. It has helped me with my studies and my work. Ever since my school days, I have learnt to always start with the most important issues. I got myself into the habit of finishing my homework before playing—and studying daily so that lessons didn’t pile up before tests. And now, with my increasing responsibilities at work, managing the café, and looking after my parents, organising my time is of the utmost importance. Each day, I make sure that I fulfil my duties towards Allah, my work, my parents, and my health (the big stones) before dealing with the less important issues such as amusement and entertainment. The big stones come first, Meshari. Prioritise them.
What a valuable lesson that was! So, the secret to organising my time is prioritising the more important issues and not postponing them—dealing with the big stones before the meagre sand particles. For so long, I had been putting off doing the essential things in my life and occupying myself with trivial things. I remembered how I used to spend hours having fun with my friends before finishing my homework, and how I used to put off studying until one or two nights before the exam because I wasn’t in the mood for opening a certain book. Unlike me, Shehab always started with the most important issues, the big stones, in his studies and in all aspects of his life.
[*Meshari: *]What you are saying is extremely important, Shehab.
Shehab: Indeed, Meshari. Organising your time in this manner is extremely important.
[*Meshari: *]Does that mean that I have to stay away from all sorts of leisure activities and entertainment and spend my time studying?
Shehab: Of course not. Believe me, Meshari, in spite of all my responsibilities, I still find time to exercise, get together with friends, and rest. The secret is prioritising the big stones—the most important duties. Then you can leave some space for the less important things, but don’t let the small issues become thieves.
Shehab: Certainly, they are thieves. They are the thieves of time—those little sand particles that fill up your life bowl, leaving no space for your big stones.
[*Meshari: *]I get it. I must get used to these Daforic expressions: The circle of influence, the SMART goals, the sceptic, and now the thieves of time. I love them!
Faisal laughed and then got up to look at the photos of players hanging all over the walls of the café. He left me with Shehab who resumed his explanation of the thieves of time. I was listening to him while trying to ignore my ravenous hunger.
Shehab: Let me elaborate on the thieves of time. Each one of us has unimportant issues in our life which we frequently concern ourselves with and allow them to take so much of our time that we do not even notice how much time we have wasted.
[*Meshari: *]That’s right. I agree with you completely. That happens with me and lots of people I know. We spend most of the time playing, sleeping, watching games, going out, and making phone calls. I know that some of these things are useful, but I think we sometimes spend too much time on them. For example, one of my friends sleeps for ten hours every day. I know another one who watches football daily for two hours. As for me, I mostly waste my time hanging around with friends or chatting with them on social media. I have always had a guilty conscience because of the amount of time that I waste in front of my computer or on my phone.
Shehab: I’m glad you are aware of this problem. As you saw in the stones and sand experiment, if we waste our time on unimportant things, we won’t find time for the more important ones.
[*Meshari: *]How do I recognise the thieves that steal my time and prevent me from achieving the important things?
Shehab: That’s a good question. To recognise these thieves, you have to monitor yourself for a certain period—a week, for example—to see how you spend your time. Write down everything that you do during that period. Then go back to that piece of paper and try to pinpoint the unimportant things that took up a big part of your day. Look at this example, Meshari, which I prepared for you last night. On this piece of paper, you’ll see a schedule for observing time. Notice how this person spent three hours in one day on the PlayStation. If this is a daily habit of his, then one of his thieves of time is video gaming.
I asked Shehab, cunningly: “But the environment you provide here for students is full of the thieves of time. I mean, the consoles spread all around the café.”
He answered, smiling: “We have a rule at the café that the maximum playing period is one hour only.”
Faisal returned from his walk around the café and sat in silence so as not to interrupt us.
[*Meshari: *]Really! That’s an uncommon rule in cafés, Shehab. Cafés usually seek profit, ignoring the time wasted by young people. It seems that you loathe the thieves of time, Shehab.
Shehab: I do indeed. The main reason for my success and excellence—in studying previously and in my working life currently—is getting rid of all the thieves of time in my life. Imagine, Meshari, if you watched out for the thieves of time and spared half an hour every day to do something useful. Do you know that this time would be enough to read twenty books a year?
I was struck by Shehab’s words. It was so simple, yet effective. To become a DAFOR, I must prioritise the most important things in my life and rid myself of the habits that waste my time. For me, that would be reducing the time I spend with my friends at the Diwaniyah. I had one problem, though, that I wanted Shehab to help me solve.
[*Meshari: *]This is all great and useful, but I usually have a problem related to my studies. I tend to forget to do my homework and the dates of exams. I have often gone to class having either forgotten about my homework or the date of a certain test.
Shehab: That’s because you don’t use the magic book. If you did, you wouldn’t face such problems.
[*Meshari: *]The magic book? Is that some kind of a Daforic book? Please, Shehab, tell me; what is the magic book?
Again, Faisal and Shehab laughed at me. It was obvious that they were amused by my fidgeting and complaining. While I was waiting to hear about the magic book, we heard loud shouts coming from the boys at the adjacent table. One of the players must have scored a good goal. Without thinking, the three of us got up to watch the replay of the goal. It was a fantastic shot from the centre of the pitch during the last minutes of the game. We cheered the skilful player and returned to our table in a hurry, like someone who remembered he had something urgent to finish.
Shehab: A great goal, indeed! So, Meshari, we were talking about the magic book. Do you realise that if you use it, you will not forget the date of any homework or test?
Faisal: And do you know that it only costs three or four riyals?
[*Meshari: *]I’m intrigued. Will one of you reveal the secret of this magic book?
Shehab: It’s the school planner, Meshari. Any DAFOR student must always write down his assignments. Just like you learnt that the DAFOR writes down his goals, he also writes down his assignments so he remembers them. The best way to do that is by using the school planner.
[*Meshari: *]Oh … So the magic book is the school planner? I remember using it in my early school years, but then I stopped because I thought it was only meant for youngsters. I don’t mind using it again, but where is the magic in that? How can it solve my forgetfulness?
[* Shehab:*] Isn’t it obvious, Meshari? If you write down all your school assignments in the school planner, you cannot forget them.
[*Meshari: *]That’s fine. I’ll keep it up. It’s an easy piece of advice to implement.
An example of writing assignments in the school planner
Shehab: It’s not only easy to implement, but it’s also effective. We—as DAFORs—never forget our assignments because we use a planner regularly. Unfortunately, some students get lower grades because they simply don’t write down their assignments. They end up with unnecessary regrets. What you should do, Meshari, is, write everything in the planner first and finish each assignment before its due date.
Faisal: I’m sorry to interrupt, Shehab. I just want to remind you that at university, we use another method for recording the dates of assignments, which is slightly different from the school planner.
Shehab: That’s right. Thank you for reminding me, Faisal. At university, we also write down the dates of homework and exams, but we write them in what we call the semester calendar. It’s a big schedule where each square is allocated to each day in the semester. Like we do in our school planner, we record each required assignment in the square for that day.
[*Meshari: *]Great! I suppose I’ll be more interested in the semester calendar when I join the university. In the meantime, I’ll go back to my school planner.
An example of the semester calendar
It was an interesting and helpful discussion, but I was starving. Frankly, there we were—at the man’s café—and he didn’t even take the trouble to ask if we wanted anything to eat or drink. I didn’t know whether it was due to his lack of manners or unintentional negligence. My confused thoughts were interrupted by Shehab’s delightful words that sounded like rain falling over a barren desert.
Shehab: We haven’t eaten anything yet. Raju, come over here, please. Raju …
I watched as Raju came over to our table, and I imagined him—in my hunger—as a humanitarian relief worker who gave food to children in stricken areas. I almost jumped up to hug him. I was just so hungry!
Shehab: Raju, bring us one chocolate cake.
[*Meshari: *]One cake? But …
Faisal told me to remain silent, and I whispered to him that I was starving (because of him) and that one miserable cake would not fill me up, especially if we divided it into three parts. He ignored my babbling and urged me to be patient and keep quiet.
Minutes later, the cake arrived. It looked very delicious but much smaller than I had expected (or indeed hoped). Shehab asked Raju to put it in front of me. I knew then that he was preparing me for a new Daforic lesson, particularly when I glimpsed the usual sly smiles and looks that Faisal and Shehab were exchanging.
Shehab: Very well, Meshari. I know you’re hungry because Faisal has asked you not to eat anything since this morning. I apologise for being inhospitable so far, but there’s a purpose to that.
Meshari: It doesn’t matter, Shehab, I just realised that. Tell me what the purpose is.
Shehab: You have in front of you now a delicious chocolate cake, but it’s too small to fill you up. You have two options: either you eat this small cake and satisfy some of your hunger immediately or be patient for twenty minutes and I will reward you with a second delicious cake. What will you choose?
Meshari: So, either I eat this cake now or wait for twenty minutes and eat two cakes? Well, this is a strange offer, but let me think it over. Actually, I’m famished, and I can eat this cake in one or two bites. But, you know what? I want to wait to get two cakes. I’ll be patient, so help me God.
Faisal and Shehab exchanged looks yet again, and then they congratulated me with unexpected enthusiasm. It was as if I had passed an important test or something.
Faisal: Well done, Meshari. Why don’t you explain to him the meaning of this, Shehab?
Shehab: What we did now resembles an experiment that was conducted in the sixties on some children. It was called the marshmallow experiment. In that experiment, the scientists wanted to test the willpower of four-year-old children. Each child was given the choice of eating one piece of candy right away or waiting for twenty minutes to get an extra piece of candy—just like I did with you now. Some children chose to have one piece and eat it immediately, while others preferred to wait for twenty minutes and get another piece as a reward.
Meshari: But what is the purpose of that strange experiment?
Shehab: The team of scientists kept track of the children until they became adults. They made a comparison between the patient children who resisted the temptation to eat the candy and those who were impatient. They found out that the patient ones had achieved higher academic and professional excellence. The scientific result of the experiment was that the power of patience and discipline in a student foretells higher academic success in the future. Therefore, if a student is disciplined from an early age, it is an indication of their academic success in subsequent years.
Meshari: Can you define discipline? What makes a disciplined student?
Shehab: A disciplined student is one who does what he has to do at the required time, whether it is pleasant or not. You have just learnt some essential points about the organisation of time. However, knowing something is not the same as doing it. It’s not easy to rid ourselves of our old habits. It’s not easy to reduce your fun time from three hours to one hour or to sleep fewer hours if you’re accustomed to oversleeping. It will be hard for you to study for longer periods if you haven’t done it before—and also change your habit of excessive use of the mobile phone. That’s why you have to develop your willpower, Meshari. You must do what’s right even if it’s hard for you. Discipline will lead to a positive outcome—just like when you put off eating one cake in order to get two cakes.
Meshari: I love your words, Shehab! I truly needed this lesson.
Shehab: You have to discipline yourself, Meshari. If you find that you have to reduce your hours of play, you do it. If you decide to study at a certain time, you go ahead and study. You don’t change your plan just because a friend invites you suddenly to dinner. Your willpower will determine whether you become a real DAFOR or not. Discipline, Meshari, is one of the most important indicators of success, not only in your studies but throughout your whole life.
What Shehab said was of utmost importance. It meant that my success in my studies and in my life depended wholly on my ability to discipline myself to do the important things first and not postpone them. I knew then that I had so much to work on in order to achieve self-discipline.
My growling stomach interrupted my thoughts.
Faisal: The twenty minutes are up now, Shehab. It’s time to have mercy on our friend and feed him. A DAFOR needs good food, as you know.
Meshari: My word! I’m so hungry. Can I have the two cakes now?
I was so pleased when Shehab said: “We are going to have the most delicious sandwiches that this café offers. Raju, Raju …”
I certainly did have one of the tastiest sandwiches in my life. While I was ravenously devouring my sandwich, Shehab summarised his talk.
Shehab: That’s all I have to say about the fourth habit, Meshari. If you want to become a DAFOR, you must organise your time. You should plan to do the more important things first without giving the thieves of time the chance to waste your efforts. You discipline yourself and complete what you have to do on time, regardless of whether the task is pleasant or not. And, finally, do not forget to refer to your school planner to follow up on your homework and exams.
The meeting with Shehab had been so enjoyable. I learnt a lot and was inspired by his academic and professional success. Shehab’s farewell was warm, and he said something that sounded strange to me: “I’ll see you soon, Meshari.”
On the way back, Faisal congratulated me on my positive interaction with all the DAFORs that I had met till then and how I had benefited from them. He also gave me the good news that our meeting the following week with the last DAFOR, Salem, would be as enjoyable as all the rest.
As I did every time, I returned home immediately to write down what I had learnt from Shehab. Those lessons would be of much help to me during my school years. They were certainly very helpful in getting me ready for the maths exam that was due to take place in a few days. Full of optimism, I thought, How I hope I get the high grade that I want in this exam.
I opened a new page in my diary and summarised the most important lessons of the fourth habit: Organise your time.
Now, having read my story with Shehab, write down some of your ideas about organising your time:
1. What are the major responsibilities in your life (the big stones)?
2. What are the most important thieves of time in your life? What do you intend to do about them?
3. How can the school planner or semester calendar assist you?
And say, “My Lord increase me in knowledge.”
—The Quran, Taha:114
Four weeks had gone by, and it was time for my first maths exam at high school. The night before the exam was a long night. I lay in bed with all my fears and insecurities running through my mind. I was afraid that all my preparation and effort would prove to be in vain and that I would receive a hard blow and lose my self-confidence.
But wasn’t I well prepared for that exam? Yes, I was. I had reviewed all the basics of mathematics that I didn’t know well, and I had gone over the new lessons for long hours. I had asked my clever classmates to help me with the things that I didn’t understand. Hadn’t I learnt from the four DAFORs, Faisal and his friends, to be fully responsible for my success, to identify my goal and make a plan to achieve it, to be positive and confident, and to organise my time and do what I had to do? Wasn’t all that supposed to change my academic situation and my grades? Then why was I afraid? I had done what I had to do. I left the rest to Allah.
The teacher distributed the exam papers. I took a deep breath, prayed to Allah and started solving the problems. Never in my whole life will I forget that feeling. For the very first time, my pen was writing the answers rapidly and confidently. I answered the questions one by one. Some were a bit hard, but I finished the exam certain that most of my answers were correct. Even though I was one of the first students to finish the exam, I decided to take my time and review my paper. I couldn’t hide the smile on my face. I had finished the maths exam like a true DAFOR!
As a matter of fact, the teacher told me later that my grade was 92%. It wasn’t the highest in the class, but that didn’t matter. My aim was to get 90%, and thanks be to Allah, I had surpassed it. When I told my mother the good news, I was thrilled to see how happy she was and to hear her heartfelt prayer for my success.
On the day we had agreed to meet the fifth DAFOR, and while riding with Faisal in his car, I told him about my amazing experience in the maths test. I spoke like an excited child whose parents had taken him to an amusement park. Faisal smiled at me and assured me that he was confident of my success and that I would always succeed if I persevered with the five habits of the DAFORs.
My journey with the DAFORs hadn’t come to an end yet. I still had to meet Salem in a few minutes—specifically, at 4 p.m.—when he was going to teach me the secrets of the fifth habit. Faisal said that Salem was also different from the others; he was a Master’s student, and he had a very special hobby.
Salem opened the front door and invited us inside. What drew my attention to him was his humble appearance. Even though he came from a rich family, his ever-present smile and his quiet voice made me feel as if I was talking to a very modest person. He was a little shorter than me, with broad shoulders and a stocky but not fat body.
Salem’s family house was one of the largest and most luxurious in Al Jafer City—one of the cities located on the east side of Al Hasa Oasis. I was struck by the splendour of the external garden—palm trees, all of the same height, lined at equal distances from each other; very green and carefully trimmed grass interspersed with fragrant basil plants and surrounded by a ring of small roses. I also remember walking by two sweet-smelling jasmine trees, one on each side of the entrance to the men’s sitting room.
As for the design of the house, it was magnificent and exquisite in a far-from-sophisticated way, unlike other excessively decorated houses with over-adorned corners and complex designs. Despite the simplicity of the design, the house suggested a special elegance that reflected the fine taste of its owners. I remembered a famous saying by the artist Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Salem took us to the sitting room which led us to the adjacent library room. It was a very large, majestic room and was superbly decorated. Scores of shelves made of dark mahogany covered the walls. In one corner, there was a leather reading chair, and beside it—a small table with some books and a small desk lamp on it. A splendid office table occupied the front part of the room. Two computer monitors sat on the table, side by side, suggesting that their owner was a very important and busy person.
The most remarkable thing about that room was the incredible number of books in it. I make no exaggeration when I say that the library contained thousands of books—books about everywhere and every time period. Books in history, religion, language and various humanities and natural sciences. I had never seen such an enormous and grand library in my whole life.
While I was contemplating the grandeur of the library with great astonishment, I glimpsed Salem gazing at me curiously, exactly like the other DAFORs had done before him. It was the same scrutinising look that implied previous acquaintance. It couldn’t be because of what Faisal had told him about me. I thought to myself, Very well; this time, I won’t let them avoid the question. I have to know what is behind that strange welcome and those suspicious looks. But it seemed that Faisal had forewarned Salem against saying anything that might surprise me, so he greeted me in a normal way. I didn’t find any pretext for questioning him. I thought menacingly, That’s good, Faisal, you were careful this time. We’ll see how this mystery will be solved.
As we stood in the library, Faisal started the conversation as usual.
Faisal: What a great library, Salem! Tell us about it.
Salem: Thank you. It’s my father’s library. His life passions were reading and learning. That’s why this library is the best room in our house. My father took great care of it. Please pray for his recovery and long life. He’s been ill and bedridden for years now.
[*Meshari: *]May Allah prolong his life and give him health.
Salem: Thank you, Meshari. May Allah keep you safe and happy.
Faisal: Amen. As I told you earlier, Salem, our friend Meshari asked me to help him learn the habits of the DAFORs. So far, he has learnt the first four habits, and he’s here now to learn the fifth and last habit from you.
That was strange! It was the first time that Faisal got straight to the point. For a moment, I was glad about the unexpected shortcut, but I would have preferred to get to know Salem before talking about the fifth habit. In all my previous meetings with the DAFORs, I found out that talking about their personal lives had made me more interested.
Meshari: Excuse me, Salem, but before explaining the fifth habit, please tell me a little about yourself and your interests. I’ve learnt a lot from the inspiring stories of the other DAFORs. I’m sure you have plenty to tell.
Faisal was surprised by my words. His eyes widened, and he raised his eyebrows and said: “I thought you wanted to get straight to the point, Meshari?”
I replied, reassuring him: “You taught me to be patient, and that patience is one of the important attributes of successful people. Wasn’t that what Shehab said?”
Faisal and Salem were impressed with my answer, and they congratulated me on making use of the lessons that I had learnt. Salem began his inspiring and brilliant talk about his life.
[*Salem: *]I’m a Master’s student specialising in electrical engineering, which was also my specialisation in my Bachelor’s degree. I thank Allah that I’m a high-achieving student. What else … Oh, yes, I love programming and spend a lot of time developing websites as well as mobile phone software.
[*Meshari: *]Websites and software? Wow!
Salem: Yes, that is my hobby.
Faisal wasn’t happy with Salem’s humble reply. He urged him to say more.
Faisal: Don’t be too modest, Salem. It’s more than a hobby. Why don’t you tell Meshari the whole truth? He’s here to learn from you.
Salem: All right, maybe it’s more than a hobby. I program websites and mobile phone applications for some companies and businessmen for a fee. You could say that I’m a professional in the field, and—thanks be to Allah—I have dozens of clients across the country, and abroad as well.
[*Meshari: *]How wonderful! But how did you become an expert at programming, Salem? Didn’t you say that you were specialising in electrical engineering?
Salem smiled and pointed at the library shelves that surrounded us from all sides.
Salem: It all began here, Meshari, in our library
[*Meshari: *]What do you mean?
Salem: I’ll explain later, but before that, let me tell you about the fifth habit of the DAFORs: Rise and continue to rise. As you notice, it’s the habit that starts with the letter R, because it revolves around the word Rise. A student’s knowledge and learning should continue to rise.
[*Meshari: *]Very nice! Now the picture is complete. D: determine your role. A: ascertain your goals. F: feel and think like a winner. O: organise your time. And R: rise and continue to rise—DAFOR!
Faisal and Salem laughed at my sudden enthusiasm. It was evident that I had been very eager to learn the words those five letters stood for.
Salem: Excellent. The habit of rising revolves around the things that a DAFOR does to develop his brain and enhance his knowledge and intelligence. You will now learn several methods which will help you rise.
[*Meshari: *]I see. I guess one of these methods is reading?
Salem: Exactly—reading! Books, Meshari, have been one of the most important methods of learning throughout the history of mankind and still are to this day. Modern technology and the internet haven’t been able to threaten the status of books. That’s because those who earnestly seek knowledge delve into books.
[*Meshari: *]But we do read books at school and university. Aren’t our academic books enough?
Salem: You must know, Meshari, that what we learn at school and university is but a tiny fraction of the basic knowledge that helps us understand the world; it takes more than academic books to prepare us for a professional life that provides us with good living. A DAFOR is never content with the knowledge contained in academic curriculums because he has a passion for learning more and a constant desire to develop his brain and mind. Allah Almighty said: and say, my Lord increase me in knowledge. In this life, we must keep on learning from the cradle to the grave. Through learning and knowledge, we get to know the Almighty Creator, the secrets of the universe, and the life history of our ancestors, and we can solve the problems facing the people in this world.
Salem was right. Deep down, I was convinced that I had to read more because even though we acquire a wealth of knowledge from school, it is certainly not enough. As I was going to be a DAFOR student who understands he has a responsibility to improve himself, it was my duty to educate myself through reading. But I had a problem with that: I had never liked reading, and I became bored with it quickly.
[*Meshari: *]I agree with you completely. But, Salem, I don’t like reading. I find it very boring, as most of the other students do—even the outstanding ones.
Salem: That’s right, but you should know that no matter how high a student’s grades are, if he limits his knowledge to what he learns at school, then he’ll grow up to be an adult with very limited understanding of the world. Believe me; this is a fact that I see clearly in many friends who abandoned reading and relied on their school books and social media broadcasts as sources of knowledge.
Faisal: May I add something, Salem? If you want to get used to reading, Meshari, you don’t have to read long, boring, or difficult books. For a start, choose something short, entertaining and easy to understand, like a novel or a story suited to your age. Let your first aim be to like books and get used to them. The important thing is to read, every day if possible, until it becomes a life habit.
Salem: Look around you, Meshari. Look at the thousands and thousands of books that my father has collected over the years. Aren’t they wonderful and inspirational?
[*Meshari: *]It certainly is a superb library!
Faisal left us to peruse the titles of some of the books. He took out a book and sat on the reading seat, browsing it. I admired Faisal. He always set the stage for my conversation with a DAFOR and then he withdrew to give us the chance to talk freely. I think he liked to make good use of his time too. He must have heard these lessons very often until the habits of the DAFORs had become ingrained in him. He was certainly one of the most intelligent DAFORs that I had met in my whole life. I was indeed very grateful to Faisal!
Thinking of Faisal, I almost forgot that I was talking to Salem.
Salem: You asked me how I had learnt to program websites and mobile phone applications, even though that wasn’t my specialisation. I’ll tell you now. My passion for reading, which I inherited from my father, made me capable of self-learning. I was accustomed to reading in many areas, so it wasn’t hard for me to read about the basics of programming and computer science. I read a lot of that, and some Internet-based educational sites helped me a lot. Then I started implementing what I was learning on my own computer until I became a good programmer.
[*Meshari: *]That’s great. So because you were used to reading, it was easy for you to learn what you wanted. Do you believe me, Salem? Today—more than ever before—I’m convinced that reading is one of the most important methods of learning and gaining knowledge.
[* Salem:*] Not only that but reading has many other benefits besides gaining knowledge. Scientists have discovered that students who read are cleverer than those who don’t, because reading helps the brain to develop and strengthens the thought process. Students who read get higher grades, and they can concentrate better. Reading broadens the imagination and enhances the vocabulary. Plus, reading lowers a person’s anxiety level and gives him a feeling of tranquillity.
Meshari: Wow! Reading does all that?
Salem: Meshari, all the benefits I have just mentioned are supported by recent scientific studies which confirm the magical effects of reading. It is a means for advancement. If you want to become a DAFOR, you must read. Read to rise!
[*Meshari: *]That’s good, but how many books should I read?
Salem: Some researchers state that reading two books a month on average is good enough. However, if you’re not accustomed to reading, then I suppose finishing one book a month is okay. So, you would read twelve books a year, which is very good for a beginner. After that, you can increase that number, and as Faisal said, try to start with short, interesting books until you get used to reading.
Faisal got up and came towards us. He suggested that we continue our conversation in the sitting room, as Salem and I were still standing up. We agreed and went to the sitting room where Salem offered us some juice and sweets. I thanked Allah that I didn’t have to exert myself physically that time as I had done in previous meetings. I didn’t have to get up early in the morning, run a long distance, or abstain from eating.
We drank some juice and Salem continued to speak about the fifth habit.
Salem: Reading, Meshari, is one of the extracurricular requirements that a student must busy himself with. There are certainly other extracurricular requirements which I’m going to tell you about.
[*Meshari: *]Hmm. What are extracurricular requirements, Salem?
Salem: They are the knowledge and skills necessary to guarantee a bright academic and professional future. But they are extracurricular, which means that you have to learn them by yourself, without depending on your school or university, because they are not adequately covered by the curriculum. For example, I told you earlier that learning from your school books is not enough. You have to broaden your knowledge through self-teaching. Thus, reading is an extracurricular requirement that you have to do yourself without depending on school.
[*Meshari: *]I understand. What are the other extracurricular requirements that I have to busy myself with?
Salem: Take, for example, computer skills. A student has to learn the basics of the computer to be capable of completing all his study assignments to the best possible standard. The basics include using the operating system (Windows or Macintosh) and the Office programs (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) in addition to mastering touch-typing. Unfortunately, we do not learn these computer skills at school well enough. We barely learn the basics. All my undergraduate friends said that what they had learnt at school wasn’t sufficient for university where they were required to do their assignments and research on the computer.
[*Meshari: *]I see. When did you learn all these skills, Salem?
Salem: At middle school. I was involved with some friends in publishing a monthly science magazine. Because we had to use the computer, I had to learn all those skills. What was great about it was that it proved very useful at university in particular. University students have to do so much research and give so many presentations by PowerPoint. I surpassed my fellow students because I was the fastest typist and the most skilled at computer programs.
[*Meshari: *]How do I learn all these skills? I’m not involved in any extracurricular requirements, Salem.
Salem: I suggest you enrol in some basic training courses, then continue your own self-learning through books and internet sites. You must remember—as you learnt from the first habit—that you are in charge of learning these skills.
[*Meshari: *]Excellent! Are there any other extracurricular activities that I need to learn?
Salem: How is your level of English?
[*Meshari: *]Hmmm … It’s average. My grades are not bad.
Salem: You should know, Meshari, that the English language is one of the key elements of academic excellence, especially at university level. You don’t have to be fluent in English to get very good grades at school, but it’s not the same in the university. Most of the prestigious universities nowadays rely heavily on the English language. That’s why you have to double your efforts in the early stages of study to learn the English language. Honestly, the school curriculum is insufficient.
Faisal: I agree with you, Salem. I often meet fellow students at the university who were good graders at school, but struggling at university because their English is weak.
[*Meshari: *]I’m totally convinced by what you’re saying. I still remember our lesson in the first habit, Faisal, when you taught me that I’m fully responsible for improving my English, whatever the circumstances. I just don’t know how to improve my language. Will you advise me?
Salem: This is a problem for many students. There are various solutions that you can choose from. You can enrol in some educational courses, but make sure you pick out the good ones. You can also read and write in English according to a special programme that you set for yourself.
[*Meshari: *]Could you clarify further, Salem?
Salem: I shall tell you what I did when I was your age, Meshari. I used to read a whole page in English daily and then write a short summary of what I had learnt from that page. Also, I used to memorise five new words every day and talk to our Filipino driver, Michael, in English. In addition to that, I was constantly curious to learn everything related to the English language.
[*Meshari: *]That’s great, Salem. And what was the result of this programme?
Salem: The results were impressive. Notice that in my programme, I used to read, write, listen, and speak. These are the main means of communication in any language. I also increased my vocabulary to a great extent, because I memorised 150 words every month. Do you notice the difference between what I did and what others who depend solely on school studies do? It was easy for me to be an outstanding university student as well as to follow programming lessons—which are mostly written in English.
[*Meshari: *]No wonder you are all DAFORs. How fortunate I am to make your acquaintance and learn from you!
I was indeed fortunate to meet them. It was true that I learnt the habits of the DAFORs from them, but more importantly, I saw them applying these lessons and reaping the benefits. There was Salem, for example, implementing determine your role perfectly by seeking to improve his English without totally depending on the school curriculum.
Salem kept talking about the extracurricular requirements. The last ones he mentioned were the aptitude and scholarly achievement tests and how I should prepare myself for them, not relying solely on the preparatory programmes provided by the school. I told him that I had done that immediately after meeting Raed who taught me ascertain your goals.
Salem: I see you have learnt a lot about the habits of the DAFORs, Meshari. This is great. I think you will improve your academic standard steadily and rapidly.
[*Meshari: *]I do hope so. This is all because of your help.
Salem: This is another Daforic attribute that you possess, Meshari.
[*Meshari: *]An attribute that I possess? What do you mean?
Faisal: I think that Salem means you don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Salem: Exactly. Meshari, you are not scared to ask for help. It’s one of the most important characteristics that an outstanding student should possess. It is related to our discussion about the habit of rising. If, for instance, you hadn’t asked Faisal to help you, you wouldn’t have learnt the habits of the DAFORs. You would have kept on trying to improve yourself all on your own.
[*Meshari: *]That’s true. Do you remember our encounter in the football field, Faisal? If I hadn’t summoned up the courage to ask for your help there and then, I would still be in a dilemma and wouldn’t know what I know today about the habits of the DAFORs.
Salem: Maintain this essential characteristic, Meshari. You cannot learn everything on your own. Many of those around you are willing to help you. Always ask for help when you need it. In class, you should ask the teacher to explain anything that you don’t understand. If necessary, you can go to your teacher’s office and ask for further explanation and clarification. Don’t forget to ask for your classmates’ assistance if you need it. And of course, you can also assist them if they ask you to.
[*Meshari: *]Did anybody help you to learn programming, Salem?
Salem: Of course. Many of my colleagues who specialised in computer science helped me. Even now, I still need the help of those who are more skilled in some areas. Look, Meshari, I’ll show you one of my programs.
Salem opened an application—which he had developed himself—on his iPhone. The design of the application was superb—indicative of the high level of expertise of its creator. Salem told me that the purpose of the application was to help the user organise his daily assignments. He also informed me that he had turned to two of his colleagues who specialised in developing mobile phone applications for help. One of them provided the graphics while the other prepared the sound effects to go with the program.
Salem: I wouldn’t have been able to develop this application without the help of these two friends. It proved to be very popular; more than 10,000 users have uploaded it so far.
Faisal: It’s a great program. I use it myself.
[*Meshari: *]This is fantastic, Salem. I’ll never forget your advice, and I will ask for help whenever I need it.
Salem: Good. I’ve told you so far about the importance of reading for yourself, extracurricular requirements, and asking others for help. All these are important points which will help you rise and become an outstanding student. There’s one more thing to know. I would like to explain a proverb that you’ll be familiar with.
[*Meshari: *]A proverb that I’m already familiar with?
Salem: Yes. It goes: A sound mind …
[*Meshari: *]Ah, A sound mind in a sound body. It is indeed a proverb that we’ve all known since childhood. But it is quite clear, Salem. What is there to explain?
Salem got up suddenly—as if he had remembered something important. Then he said: “I’ll explain it to you, Meshari, but before that, excuse me because it’s time for my father’s medicine. I’ll give it to him and be right back.”
In the meantime, I took the opportunity to speak to Faisal.
[*Meshari: *]I can’t believe I’m about to complete my Daforic lessons, Faisal.
Faisal just smiled. Then I plucked up the courage to openly say: “You owe me some answers, Faisal. I think you know what I’m talking about.”
Faisal smiled again and reassured me: “I know what you mean, Meshari. You’ll get the answer to your question.”
I didn’t probe any further. I left it to Faisal who usually resolved any mysteries by himself. It seemed I had learnt from him the language of mysteries.
Salem: I’ve given my father his medicine. Where were we, Meshari?
[*Meshari: *]A sound mind in a sound body.
Salem: Yes, indeed. We’ve all heard this since childhood. Nonetheless, I don’t suppose everyone knows what it means. You must know, my friend, that if you want to become a DAFOR and you want your mind and intelligence to rise to the highest levels, you must take very good care of your body. A fine, sound mind needs a strong, healthy and active body. There are three aspects to that.
[*Meshari: *]What are they, Salem?
Salem: The first aspect is healthy food. A hard-working student is aware of the importance of choosing nutritious foods and avoiding unhealthy ones. Healthy food is that which contains the necessary nutrients, such as milk, vegetables, fruits, cereals, and protein. A student should avoid fast foods, harmful fats, and sugars. Improving the quality of your food affects the brain’s abilities and development in a very positive way.
Faisal: Don’t forget to tell him about breakfast too, Salem.
Salem: That’s right. Breakfast, Meshari, is the most important meal for students. Sadly, many students go to school without having breakfast, and this is a big mistake. Scientific studies have proved that students who eat breakfast get better results in maths and science, and they are rarely absent from school. It has also been proven that students who eat a healthy breakfast are able to concentrate better than those who don’t.
[*Meshari: *]This is very useful advice. I often skip breakfast. Perhaps that’s why I feel weak and tired during the school day.
Salem: What about sleep? Don’t you feel tired on days when you haven’t slept well at night?
[*Meshari: *]Very much so! Unfortunately, I stay up late and go to school after having only slept for a few hours. I feel tired and sleepy the whole day.
Salem: And this is the second aspect of taking care of your body—sleeping well. Many often stay up late. Then, during their school day, they are weary and exhausted. How can they concentrate in class when they are tired and sleepy? It’s almost impossible.
I was embarrassed by Salem’s words. I felt he was talking about me. Damn my staying up late!
Salem: Sleep deprivation has several bad consequences. Studies have found that students who don’t get enough sleep have lower grades and weaker academic performance. Their cognitive abilities are undermined, and they also develop a bad temper and become irritable.
I was shocked. All that caused by lack of sleep! I never imagined that lack of sleep had such detrimental effects. I felt awful for wasting time that could have been spent on getting a good sleep all these years. Lack of sleep was certainly one of the reasons for my modest academic standard.
[*Meshari: *]How can I change the situation, Salem? What constitutes a good sleep?
Salem: It’s easy. All you have to do is make sure you sleep for eight or nine hours every night. Also, make sure you give your mind a rest before sleep; don’t watch television or look at your mobile screen before sleeping because it stimulates your brain and makes falling asleep difficult. You must avoid drinking stimulants like caffeinated drinks or energy drinks. If you do these, you’ll find that you are sleeping better, and your academic performance will improve too.
Faisal checked his watch and said, “There is still the third aspect, Salem.”
Salem: Yes, the third aspect is physical activity. A student must always do some sort of physical activity such as running, swimming, playing football, etc. It has been confirmed that physical activity increases concentration and leads to better results at school. It also has a positive effect on the temperament and psychological wellbeing, as the body releases endorphins, which are also called the happiness hormone.
[*Meshari: *]The happiness hormone! Great! How many times a week should I engage in physical activity, Salem?
Salem: That’s a good question. Sixty minutes three times a week is a good amount of time. You can diversify your activities if you like: running once, football another time, swimming, and so on.
[*Meshari: *]Understood. I will do that.
Salem: I will summarise the fifth habit now, Meshari. If you want to become a DAFOR, you must continue to rise by yourself through reading, learning the extracurricular subjects, asking for help, and taking care of your health.
[*Meshari: *]Words cannot express my gratitude to you, Salem. I pray to Allah to help me implement everything you taught me today.
The hour indicated 5 p.m. exactly. My meeting with Salem had lasted for a full hour. I got up to leave, but Faisal asked me to remain seated. I didn’t understand why, but I sat anyway. Faisal rechecked his watch like someone waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, the doorbell rang, and a moment of puzzled silence engrossed us. Salem went to open the door. Who could the visitor be? I heard not one but several voices. It was a group of people.
It was the DAFORs!
It truly was a magnificent surprise. I found out that Faisal had invited Raed, Zeid, and Shehab to join us at the end of our talk about the fifth habit. It seemed like the closing ceremony of this fantastic adventure. There I was—in front of the five DAFORs who had taught me the habits of the DAFORs. Each one of those young men had done me a great favour. I was extremely grateful for the time they had spent with me and the trouble they had gone to for my sake. I thanked them profusely and promised to apply everything that I had learnt from them. I told them that I would soon be able to announce the good results of my success.
I felt I was one of them—a DAFOR—even though I still had a lot to accomplish to be worthy of that title. We talked and laughed a lot until Faisal started saying something that I had been waiting to hear since the beginning of this journey with them.
Faisal: It’s time now, Meshari, to answer the question that you asked us so often without getting a reply. Do you remember it?
[*Meshari: *]Of course, I do. How could I forget? I wanted to know why when each one of you saw me for the first time, you acted as if you knew me already.
Faisal: Very well, Meshari, I’ll tell you why. You learnt the five habits of the DAFORs from us, but we did not tell you who taught us these habits. When we were young school children, we had a teacher who cared a lot about his students and wanted to instil in them the habits of outstanding students. He wanted them to maintain these habits all their lives and achieve several accomplishments in their years of study. That teacher combined all the lessons of excellence into what he called the five habits of the DAFORs. Then he started explaining them to his students. Thanks to him—a generation of students who mastered the arts of academic excellence emerged. He used to say to them: I’m teaching you these habits on the condition that you will, in turn, teach them to any student who asks for your help. That is my only condition. The five of us had the privilege and honour of learning the habits directly from him. That teacher, Meshari, was Mr Ahmad, your father! We sincerely hope that we have returned the favour by teaching you the habits of the DAFORs.
Faisal’s words descended on me like a thunderbolt. So it was my father who had taught them these lessons? Now I understood. Faisal must have told them beforehand that I was Mr Ahmad’s son. That explained their scrutinising and inquisitive looks upon seeing me.
I was deeply touched. I tried to control myself when I felt the tears running down my cheeks. Minutes later, I pretended that I had got over the shock and joined in their conversation. However, the impact of that news distracted me, and I was lost in my own thoughts—thoughts about my father, teacher Ahmad.
Finally, I thanked the five DAFORs again, and we agreed to meet soon. I was silent all the way home and very grateful to Faisal for not pressing me to speak.
When I arrived home, I went straight to my mother, embraced her with force and burst into a tearful confirmation: “Mother, I miss my father. He’s the one who taught me; he’s the one who taught me …”
She tried to calm me down, but at the same time, respected my feelings and didn’t question me. It was as if she knew everything without being told. It is strange how mothers understand their children.
I sat alone in my room for a while, then lay in my bed, dimmed the light and stared at the ceiling, lost in contemplative thoughts and profound emotions. What affected me most was that for so many years, I had been blaming my father for not being beside me to help me with my studies. I grew up to find out that he had laid down many candles to illuminate my path to success. I feel so small for blaming you, Father, while you were so big—when you carried the torch of your educational mission and gave your own personal time to teach your students. You taught them much more than what was required by the school curriculum.
I calmed down a bit and remembered that I had actually finished learning all the five habits of outstanding students. I recalled my memories with the DAFORs—how I met Faisal on the pitch and my meeting with him and the farmer, Abu Rashid. I recalled my meeting with Raed, the painter who drew happy endings with the paintbrush of his imagination to then realise them with his hard work and effort. After that, I recalled my meeting with Zeid, the runner who lived his victory by speaking positively to himself and whose condition did not deter him from running marathons. I thought of Shehab, the businessman whose many engagements did not keep him from pursuing his dream because he knew how to organise his time. Finally, I remembered Salem, the computer programmer who knew how to rise in knowledge and intelligence. They all taught me precious lessons which would help me become a DAFOR.
And all of them were taught by my father.
That night, I thought for a long time and decided—with more certainty than ever before—to continue the road to excellence and success, not only for my sake but also for the sake of my father who taught and inspired me in spite of our long years of separation. I wanted to succeed for the sake of my mother who had sacrificed a lot and never lost hope in me. Yes, I wanted to become a DAFOR to make my parents proud of me.
I almost fell asleep in the midst of my thoughts. But I remembered that I hadn’t written the summary of that day’s habit. I picked up my diary, which was on the table next to my bed, and started writing a brief description of what I had learnt from Salem about the fifth habit: Rise and continue to rise.
Now you know my story with the last DAFOR, Salem. Write down some of your ideas about rise and continue to rise by answering the following questions:
1. What kind of books do you like to read?
2. What are the extracurricular activities that you have to improve in?
□ Computer skills:
□ Language skills:
□ Other skills:
3. What are the things that require you to ask for help from others? Who can help you?
4. Which one of the following aspects needs more attention from you? In what way?
□ Eating healthy food:
□ Getting enough sleep:
□ Doing physical activity:
Ever since I learned the habits of the DAFORs, I tried to integrate them into my life. I felt more responsible for my academic standard and started defining my aims, not only in every school year but in each semester as well. I spoke to myself positively and persisted in organising my time to make the best possible use of it. I read often and enrolled in educational programmes to acquire computer skills, English language, and the right knowledge for the evaluation tests. I often asked for help when I needed it and took better care of my health than I ever did before.
As Faisal expected, I noticed an instant change in my academic performance day by day. I became more confident in myself and my ability to succeed. Tests passed one after the other. In the beginning, I didn’t get high grades in all of them, but over time, I was able to get high grades in every single one.
Year after year, I announced the good news of my success to my mother and made her happy with my respectable grades. Her tears of joy were precious. She would tell me: “You have made your father so happy and proud, my son.”
I finished high school with outstanding results, thanks be to Allah, and my grades qualified me to join King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, just as I dreamed I would. I specialised in Computer Engineering, and five years later, I graduated with a second honours and went on to work as an engineer for one of the leading companies. Months after starting my job, I got married, and we had a baby boy. We named him Ahmad.
Over the years, I maintained a good relationship with the five DAFORs, Faisal in particular. Our relationship grew stronger, and we would meet once or twice a week. I’ve never been able to fully repay Faisal; for ever since I met him, my life had changed.
It was wonderful having a life of stability and balance: working hard; contributing to the welfare of my country and my community; and taking care of my mother, my wife, and child. Naturally, all these responsibilities never deterred me from playing for fun on the football field of my favourite team, Al Safwa football team.
One day, during one of the team’s matches, my attention was drawn to a young man who had recently joined our team. I noticed that he wasn’t keen on playing and looked concerned and distracted. I waited for the halftime break to talk to him. He told me that he had moved to high school a few days before and that he was worried that he would finish school with poor grades and consequently not succeed in life. I smiled and asked him: “Do you want to become a DAFOR?”
• • •
About *][*How Can I Become A DAFOR?
“The beauty of this book is that it’s a mixture of stories and practical ways to improve academic performance. The stories are interesting to readers, and the practical advice makes the book effective in influencing the students’ life. Another strength of the book is that it is based on the real experiences of self-development experts and the author himself, which adds credibility to the presented material.”
—AHMAD AL SHUGAIRI, Saudi TV presenter and media figure
“After seven years of failure, discontent, and low achievement—where I was about to be expelled from college—I realised my dream after reading How Can I Become a DAFOR. The struggle is over. I graduated with high scores.”
—AISHA AL MATRODI, Engineering graduate, Manas Province, Oman
“Reading this interesting book helped me a lot in overcoming obstacles and trusting my abilities. Everyone can change for the better. I made it to 91% this year—while it was 75% last year.”
—ALI JAZAIR, 11th grade, Qatif, Saudi Arabia
“After reading How Can I Become a DAFOR , I grew more enthusiastic to study and get better marks. I have become confident that I can easily get high marks as I adopt better habits. My average increased from 85% to 97%, and I am delighted.”
—SARAH AL JAMMAL, 7th grade, Amman, Jordan
“How Can I Become a DAFOR is a book that combines simplicity and joy and speaks about skills of academic excellence in the language of modern youth. The author was very successful in presenting these basic steps towards excellence in an interesting story-telling style narrated by its characters, the DAFORs. May Allah bless his efforts that benefit others.”
—NORA AL ABDULHADI, Ministry of Education Excellence Award-winning teacher, Saudi Arabia
“The author reviews the skills of excellence in an interesting story-telling approach and points out that intelligence is not the only criterion of excellence but learning the correct habits is most important. The title of the book adds to its thrill. My recommendation to any student having the desire and interest to self-development is to read this book, as it offers the basic skills towards excellence in a smooth and attractive way.”
—MOHAMMED AL MUAIBED, Ministry of Education Excellence Award-winning student advisor, Saudi Arabia
“I was not ignorant, but I did not know how to manage my time. I read How Can I Become a DAFOR, and the most thing I benefited was time management. Last year, my average was 87%, and this year, it is 97%.”
—LUAY AL HASSAN, 10th grade, Al Hasa, Saudi Arabia
“A useful and enjoyable book that helps students excel and improve academic performance.”
—Dr ABDULLAH AL SHAMMARY, Head of The Counselling and Advising Center, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
“I have enjoyed the simple story-telling style the author used to attract the reader, connecting to the five keys to success using the term DAFOR. The book is motivational and simple to read and positively self-inspires the determined reader to start applying change immediately.”
—REEM AL KHAMEES, Ministry of Education Qiyas Excellence Award-winning student, Saudi Arabia
“An interesting joyful story with an attractive style; can be the guide for every student who desires to achieve success and excellence and reach their goals.”
—ABDULRAHMAN AL SAIF, Ministry of Education Excellence Award-winning student, Saudi Arabia
“By reading the book and discovering the areas for improvement in my personality, I changed significantly and became able to achieve my goals as a writer and a social activist.”
—FATIMAH AL ENIZI, University student and author, Hafr Al Batin, Saudi Arabia
“How Can I Become a DAFOR is an interesting book that uses a story-telling approach to address some of our children’s most difficult learning problems. I recommend this book to every student; may it be the key to their success.”
—MOHAMMED AL QAHTANI, 2015 World Champion of Public Speaking
“I learned from How Can I Become a DAFOR that I was responsible for my future and that I should strive—by all means—to the door of success myself.”
—MAHDI AL EID, University student, Al Hasa, Saudi Arabia
“I am impressed with the book, being very practical, and I find it important to intermediate level students, although the book’s message can address any stage of our lives.”
—OMAR HUSSAIN, Saudi TV presenter and media figure
“Before I read the book, I thought that my benefit would be limited to school life only. But, in fact, it benefited me a lot in practical life as well. Such a beautiful book. I recommend it to everyone.”
—HUSSEIN AL YAQOUB, 11th grade, Qatif, Saudi Arabia
“After reading How Can I Become a DAFOR, I grew more confident in myself and noticed the change in my personality. The book inspired me to continue my hard work towards excellence and aim only for the best.”
—AYESHA AL MARHABI, College student, Al Dakhliya Province, Oman
“I was not interested in reading this type of books because I did not believe that a book could simply improve my school performance. I received the book as a gift and read it in just one day. To my surprise, despite its simple teachings, it benefited me remarkably. My self-confidence has become much greater, and I am more efficient with time management now than before. My university performance has risen, and my view of this type of books has changed.”
—AMANI AL HUMAID, University student, Al Hasa, Saudi Arabia
“How Can I Become a DAFOR helped me achieve my goal in the IELTS test. It taught me the skill of setting clear and time-bound goals. Thank you to the author who helped us learn this skill in a simple and gentle way. I recommend reading this book—especially for university students and high school students.”
—INTISAR NASIR, employee, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Mohammed Al Husein is a management consultant specializing in areas such as change management and business process streamlining.
Outside of his day job, Mohammed enjoys coaching, public speaking, and writing in areas that involve self-help and academic excellence. He holds an M.B.A. from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, and an M.S. in Computer Science from The University of Chicago.
Connect with Mohammed via email, Twitter or Instagram.
Email: [email protected]
^^ The Diwaniyah is a place where men or young boys hangout, spend free time, and communicate.[←2]
^^ Majlis is an Arabic term meaning “a place of sitting.”[←3]
^^ The frond borer is an insect that infests the leaves of palm trees. The red weevil is another palm tree pest. It is known to do great damage to many of the large palm trees. The dubas bug is a common and very damaging pest to date trees. It is native to the areas surrounding the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.[←4]
^^ Adapted from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, Simon & Schuster 1992.[←5]
^^ Thobe is a long white garment worn by men in the Gulf region.
Here is the story of Meshari, a tenth grade student from the oasis of Al Hasa, Saudi Arabia, whose mediocre performance at school leaves him desperate for help. His fear of failure leads him to meet five older outstanding students (DAFORs) who teach him an important lesson: academic excellence depends not only on a student's intelligence, but also on the extent to which he practices the five habits of outstanding students. Through his relationship with the DAFORs, Meshari learns those habits, which can be acquired by just about anyone. DAFOR is a word that has been used in some Arabian Gulf regions as a colloquial expression to describe a hard-working student. How Can I Become a DAFOR? is for students aspiring to excellence, parents hoping to see their children succeed, and teachers desiring to motivate students to reach their top potential.