“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.”
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 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.