Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Let me tell you a secret.
What's on the outside can impact what's on the inside.
In the past several posts we have been talking about how you can be your best you. I want each and everyone of you to live up to the potential Allāh has given you and be a success. And so we have discussed mental health, diet, and exercise and how they can either help or hurt your performance.
Today, I want to add 2 powerful points to this conversation; appearance and hygiene. Consider the following:
A paper in the August 2015 edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science asked subjects to change into formal or casual clothing before cognitive tests. Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking—an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing.
In a study reported in the December 2014 edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, male subjects wore their usual duds or were placed in a suit or in sweats. Then they engaged in a game that involved negotiating with a partner. Those who dressed up obtained more profitable deals than the other two groups, and those who dressed down had lower testosterone levels.
Purpose driven clothing
In research published in July 2012 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, subjects made half as many mistakes on an attention-demanding task when wearing a white lab coat. On another attention task, those told their lab coat was a doctor's coat performed better than either those who were told it was a painter's smock or those who merely saw a doctor's coat on display.
The power of color
Inspired by findings that winning combat fighters in the 2004 Olympics had worn red more often than blue, researchers investigated the physiological effects of wearing these colors. As reported in February 2013 in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, they paired 28 male athletes of similar age and size, who competed against one another once while wearing a red jersey and again while wearing blue. Compared with fighters in blue, those wearing red were able to lift a heavier weight before the match and had higher heart rates during the match—but they were not more likely to be victorious.
Margaret J. King, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, a think tank that studies human behavior, including gender and appearance issues, says she hears from employers constantly that candidates don’t spend enough time thinking about how they are coming across in interviews or later, if they get the job, how appearance affects them in the workplace.
“Appearance is always a factor in primate hierarchy—how we approach others and think of them in our internal mind mapping of people and prestige,” says King.
“There are a number of human factors involved in people perception: age, gender, status, context, grooming, aesthetics, wardrobe, accessories. They all go to defining personal style and how people think they are being perceived.”
The science is there. There is a correlation between appearance and performance and so it should warrant our consideration.
This is not something new. Our tradition has addressed this very topic. Allah states, "O Children of Adam! Take your adornment (by wearing your clean clothes), while praying." (Al-A'raf 7:31)
The reality is what we wear often reflects our inner attitude. When we dress well we often feel better about ourselves and act accordingly. So when we prepare ourselves to stand attentively in front of Allah in prayer we should dress accordingly. It is a must that we observe the legislated manner of dress during our prayer beginning with covering our body in the proper manner. We must also wear something clean and nice in order to match the action we are about to embark upon knowing that it has an effect. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said that outward actions often have an effect on the heart be it good or bad before the heart can affect the outward actions.
Every situation calls for an appropriate appearance and being concerned with that is not blame-worthy in the slightest.
The messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “No one with an once of faith in their heart will enter Hell and no one with an once of arrogance will entrance. A man replied saying, O Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) I like washed clothes, oiled hair, new sandal straps… He mentioned other things until he ended with his riding crop and said, is this considered arrogance? He said, No, that is beauty. Allāh is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is when someone ignores the truth and looks down on people.
2. Personal hygiene
Coupled with appearance is personal care or hygiene.
According to a national survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from February 11 to March 6, 2015, which included a representative sample of 2,175 hiring and human resource managers across industries and company sizes, poor personal hygiene can have a negative impact on career advancement.
When asked which aspects of a worker’s physical appearance would make them less likely to promote that person, employers mentioned the following:
An unprofessional or ostentatious haircut: 25 percent
Bad breath: 23 percent
Heavy perfume or cologne: 21 percent
Too much makeup: 15 percent
Our prophet was an advocate of personal hygiene. He encouraged us to take care of our hair and skin, to brush our teeth, to keep out nails trimmed, and to smell good. He (ﷺ) said, "Purification is a part of faith..." [Ahmad, Muslim]
As people of faith, we have a very detailed hygiene routine to keep up with, the benefits of which impact our health, attitude, performance, and image.
He (ﷺ) strongly encouraged this high level of self-care not because he wanted to develop a bunch of narcissist but because it is a practice which will help you be your best you.