Slow Progress is Still Progress

A group of five people sitting around a white meeting table.

You may not see progress on your goals right off the bat—and that’s okay.

Big goals require big work. Whether it’s starting a successful business or applying to grad school or writing your first novel, big goals test your skills, patience, and motivation. Your progress might be slow and incremental, or even none at all. 

This isn’t to say that lofty goals aren’t worthwhile. In fact, lofty goals are essential to our growth. They help us stretch ourselves and achieve much more than we ever thought was possible. 

The real question is: how do you stick with a big goal when progress is slow and stagnant? 

By focusing on the process

Process is the work that you put in day in and day out. Process is choosing to have a certain mindset to get you through the tough times. Process is knowing that there are no shortcuts. That instead of giving up at the first sign of failure, or looking for quick results, you are seeking to improve and challenge yourself. 

That’s why slow progress is still progress. Just because you’re not seeing rapid results doesn’t mean that you’re not making an impact. You are chipping away at your goal one day and one task at a time. You are learning. 

Here’s how to embrace the process and find satisfaction in slow progress. 

The importance of a growth mentality 

When it comes to progress, do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? 

In her book Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck explores the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset and how they relate to one’s success. 

A fixed mindset is the belief that you have a limit to your intelligence or performance. Whereas a growth mindset is the mentality that you can improve through hard work, problem solving, and learning from others. 

For example, let’s say you do poorly on an exam. A person with a fixed mindset might believe that they don’t have what it takes to do well. And that the results are a measure of their true intelligence and potential. 

A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, would aim to study harder the next time around or get advice on how to improve.

With a growth mindset, people don’t believe that their skill sets are preordained. They believe that they can improve their results if they continue to problem solve and learn from their mistakes. 

As Dweck writes in her book: The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives. 

As you can see, dwelling on the results and having a fixed mindset can hold you back. 

But a growth mindset will help you weather slow progress. Instead of being preoccupied by the results, you’ll take meaningful action to figure out what’s holding you back and take steps to improve. 

A growth mindset understands that slow progress is better than no progress at all.

Track your progress to find out how you’re really doing 

So how do you measure progress if you’re not seeing dramatic results right away?

The trick is to monitor the variables that you can control.

If you’re preparing for a marathon, you would track the number of days you’re running, your running time, and distance. 

If you’re trying to write a novel, you would track your word count, the number of pages, and the number of books you’re reading for research. 

If you’re trying to launch a small business, you would track the number of clients, your sales, your social media followers, etc. 

You can use your planner to log your progress on a daily or weekly basis. Regular monitoring is so important when you’re working toward a long-term goal, and it will help you stay the course. You might even realize that you’re making better progress than you had assumed. Maybe your speed is increasing or your novel pages are adding up. 

Tracking your progress will also keep you honest. For example, if you’re applying to jobs and not seeing any leads, it’s easy to want to give up and complain about the job search. But by tracking your progress, maybe you’ll find that you’re not applying to as many jobs as you had thought. Or that applying to jobs on LinkedIn isn’t fruitful, but that finding jobs through your friends or peers is much more effective. 

By logging your progress, you’ll be able to detect patterns, identify problems, and come up with solutions. 

Celebrate small milestones

Because big goals require so much effort, the successes might be few and far between, especially in the beginning. But effective goal-setters make sure to celebrate their milestones—no matter the size. 

If you’re writing a novel, celebrate the 15 minutes of writing you did today. If you’re training for a marathon, celebrate getting out of the house and running for a few minutes. If you’re launching a side business, celebrate meeting one new person at a networking event. 

Don’t take your small wins for granted. String together enough small wins and you’ll create big results in no time. 

Relish big challenges 

A common denominator that successful people have? They celebrate small successes and relish big challenges. 

You’ll often hear professional athletes talk about how much they love facing a challenge and trying to come up with solutions. It’s the problem solving aspect that they find so satisfying.

You don’t have to play competitive sports to apply this same attitude to your own work. The next time you face a challenge or experience a setback, see if there’s a lesson to be gleaned from it. How can you improve for next time? What solutions can you come up with?

For example, if you didn’t meet your business goal for attracting new clients, maybe it’s time to ask a trusted peer for their advice on how to go about it. Or if you’re not meeting your writing goal, maybe you can restructure your schedule so that your writing becomes your top priority.

Relishing a challenge goes back to having a growth mindset. Use the challenges as an opportunity to learn something new and improve. You may not see big results on paper, but the internal work you are doing is going to be so valuable in the long run.

When you focus on the process, and not quick results, you’ll inevitably make significant progress over time.

Written by JiJi Lee.

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