Walk Slowly So You Don’t Trip

“Take your most conservative estimate for the amount of time you need. Then double it. That’s your most realistic deadline.”
Software Development Maxim

“People tend to overestimate what they will accomplish in one year, but underestimate what they will accomplish in five.”
Steve Pavlina

The more time you give yourself to complete a goal, the more likely you’ll achieve it. With any goal under 1-2 years, you’re probably overestimating the amount you can accomplish. By undertaking new goals with deliberate slowness, you increase the chance you can achieve lasting success.

Deliberate Slowness

Deliberate slowness has lost its appeal as a virtue. Although most people remember the old fable about the slow and successful tortoise against the faster hare, slowness is viewed as a sin in today’s culture. Walk through any bookstore and you’ll see promises to lose weight, make money and be successful in less time than you ever imagined.

Lose twenty pounds in one week. Double your income in a year. Change any bad habit instantly. Although these promises may sell more books, they undermine the power of deliberate slowness.

What would happen if you made your goal to lose twenty pounds, not in one month, but in one year? First, your likelihood of success would increase dramatically. The steps necessary to lose twenty pounds in a month are more drastic than losing twenty pounds in a year. Second, you’re more likely to develop the habits of eating and exercise that will keep the weight off once you reach your goal. Permanent success, even if it takes longer to reach, is worth far more than any fleeting achievement.

Almost any goal is achievable, but it might not be achievable within the deadline you set. If I set the goal of reading 1000 books, that goal is relatively easy within 30 years, strenuous within 7 years and almost impossible within 3 years. Setting the goal to become a millionaire is almost impossible in 1 year, difficult in 10 and practically a sure thing with 40 years, provided you follow a plan.

Patience is Underrated

Patience must underlie deliberate slowness. Almost any goal is achievable within a long enough time frame. However, the longer the time frame, the more patience you have to exert to keep your behavior consistent throughout this time. If you set the goal of investing $100 per month, but give up in less than a year, you won’t achieve any meaningful increase on your investment.

Patience forces you to focus on the process towards a goal, instead of just the result. The person who sprints at the beginning of a marathon is focused only on the end, not the steps beneath her feet. Once you admit that following a pace is necessary, you become focused on the steps. Once you accept slowness, you may even enjoy the path to the finish line.

Slowness is Quicker

In a paradox worthy of Lao Tzu, slowness actually achieves results faster than the alternative. When you make the effort to take more time than you believe is necessary, you ensure you don’t slide backwards. Like running on ice, you place each foot carefully in front of the next, so you won’t trip.

When I first started this website, I made my goal of reaching a minimum income at over three years. It’s amazing that someone could give up on a project like this after only six months. In the future, even though my skills have improved, I would expect any online business venture to take a few years before it is financially stable.

If I make a fitness goal, I deliberately make the progress slower than it needs to be. Instead of gaining 10 pounds of muscle in one month (as many people ambitiously strive for), I’d place that goal at 3-6 months. By taking longer, I can focus on doing it properly, making the necessary changes to diet and health last. Also, by making changes slowly, I can eat healthfully, without eating unhealthy diets just to force my body to adapt.

Personal Development Starts with a Firm Footing

Self-improvement is difficult. I think it is more difficult than most people realize. Making a permanent change, even a small one, takes effort, time and more than a few mistakes. On a short-term time horizon, even the smallest changes are almost miraculous.

The power of focusing on personal development is that returns compound. The investments you make in one area, allow you to improve in another. Being healthier gives you more energy to work harder, giving you more money to educate yourself. This upward spiral means that in the long-term, small changes can have a huge impact.

A common mistake is to confuse these short and long-term time horizons. By assuming self-improvement functions the same way in six months as it does in six years, you make two errors. First, you greatly overestimate the amount you can realistically accomplish in six months. Second, you underestimate the power that deliberate slowness has in six years.

Because of this distinction, I would be incredibly optimistic if I felt I could permanently increase my income by 30% in the next month. However, I’d consider it completely reasonable that I could triple my income in the next six years.

If you don’t engage in deliberate slowness, you risk sliding back to the beginning. A temporary 50% increase of my income is worth far less to me than a permanent 5% increase. One was stepped firmly, and can be used as the basis for future growth. The other will break if pressure is applied.

  • Peter

    Sorry to be nit-picky, but in the phrase “Deliberate slowness has lost it’s appeal as a virtue,” “it’s” could do without the apostrophe, for it is the slowness that has lost ITS appeal. I’m sure you knew that though. Nevertheless, I expect to see no further oversights of this crude nature, and if I do, I’ll assume that it’s because you want to begin a partnership in which I proofread your work.


  • Nicholas Powiull

    You are so right about this 🙂

    I managed to quit my fulltime job and invest my fulltime in blogging (which is my passion), in eight months. I was expecting at least 3 years.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Peter, it’s fixed. Please excuse the gross and unintentional error of switching possessive with contraction. I’m sure it will never happen again. 😉

  • sachin kapoor

    I liked this article very much. Infact, as mentioned earlier I like all your articles and just wait for it.

    Scott, of late i am wondering. Is it not that we need to know us more to apply most of the rules in life. That which works for you might not work for others.

    Also, I believe in Hindu philosophy which says all learning is inside you and you dont need to seek it outside. It may sound odd initially but go deep and you’ll feel it quite true.

    There is something more ahead of this logic world. No, i dont mean black magic. I call it instinct.

  • Scott Young


    Of course most advice is a matter of degree. That’s why I need feedback from readers to see if my advice is connecting with them in a way that is useful.


  • Vlad Dolezal

    Spot on, Scott! I can clearly remember the day when I realized I had been into personal growth for a little over a year, and how much incredible progress I had made.

    This stuff doesn’t seem to change you much from one day to the next… but it completely transforms you from one YEAR to the next!

    I bet you noticed the same thing with blogging :). It doesn’t change that much from one day to the next… and then you look up one day, and notice you have thousands of subscribers (or hundreds, in my case).

    Slow steady progress ftw! 😀

  • Peter

    Scott, I couldn’t agree more about ‘deliberate slowness’. As you brought up, one of the most concrete examples concerns weight loss; the only way to change the composition of your body in a healthy, lasting way is to do it slowly.

    I really like the point you made about patience and concentrating on the path rather than just the goal. Beyond the fact that this approach is more successful, isn’t it often the personal journey that’s more rewarding than the end result?

  • Scott Young


    Agreed. It’s also the reason “get rich quick” schemes fail. Some people, some of the time, will get rich quickly. But it isn’t a stable strategy.

    Slowness is often more rewarding. I wanted to point out the irony, that when you become deliberate, you also reach the end faster too. Leo Babauta reached the top 100 for his website after only 1-2 years, but if you talk with him, he embodies deliberate slowness. He sets goals, but is more focused on being consistent and focusing on the path.