I Embrace Slow Progress by Setting 3-Month Goals — Here’s Why They Stick

published Jun 21, 2022
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A woman practicing and sticking to her mediation routine. Its an example of embracing a slow progress by setting 3-month goals.
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

I love setting goals. Once I’ve recovered from the holidays, January is my time to shine. I love sitting down to map out my year, decide what I want, and then make a plan for seeing the vision through. The problem that I used to run into, though, was that envisioning an entire year with multiple goals felt exciting at first, intimidating a week or two later, and almost always ended with fizzled out hopes and dreams. I was stretching myself thin setting personal goals, career goals, relationship goals, and financial goals all at the same time! And even though I had lots of balls in the air all at once, I would always end up getting impatient when I wasn’t seeing results quicker. 

I needed to slow down, and I’ve learned that if I want to make any sort of real change in my life, the magic number is to commit myself for 90 days.

In 2021, I ended up purchasing an “Artist of Life” workbook by Lavendaire, a guided journal all about goal setting for the new year, and what struck me was that the goal setting portion of the journal was divided into quarters, or three-month increments. There are four quarters in a year, the quarters line up with each season, and having a quarterly focus and a seasonal set of goals felt way more manageable than New Year’s resolutions. Really leaning into the different seasons of the year encouraged me to slow my pace down,  take things off of my list instead of adding, and to get specific and focus on one or two goals instead of 10. 

Setting goals in this way reminds me of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience,” and I often refer back to it when things get tough. Here are just a few reasons why embracing slow progress and setting three-month goals helps me stay motivated and focused. 

Three-month goals are perfectly bite-sized. 

Setting yearly goals like learning how to meditate, reading more books or doing 50 push-ups may sound exciting, but if you can only do a few push-ups at a time, a goal like 50 of them may seem overwhelming and out of reach. Yearly goals can also lend themselves to procrastination, since it’s easy to put them off because you have an entire 365 days to do them.

Breaking big goals down into smaller ones can take some pressure off, and turns a giant leap into tiny steps you can take one day at a time. Realistic goals you know you can achieve will help you stay motivated and on track, and a shorter timeline means you’re less likely to feel discouraged. 

I’m reminded that slow progress is still progress.

One goal I had a few years ago was to start a meditation practice, and to be able to meditate for 30 minutes at a time. Thirty minutes of stillness and quiet felt like a really long time, especially since 10 minutes already felt like an eternity. Slow progress meant committing to meditating for just 10 minutes a day, four days a week, and doing that consistently.

Over the course of three months I gradually added time, and by the end of 90 days I … didn’t make it to 30 minutes. I only made it to 20 — and that was okay. Even though I didn’t reach my goal in the three-month time period, I was able to double the time I spent sitting, and a new season meant a new set of goals. I could try for half an hour in the next quarter if I wanted to. The win was the time and consistency I put in toward achieving the goal at hand. I can rely on slow progress because I know if I stick with it, I’m eventually going to reach my goal. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race!

Credit: Arturs Budkevics/Shutterstock

My three-month goals stay relevant.

One thing I found challenging when I was making goals for the new year was that a few months in, my goals had evolved. I used to feel like changing my goals went against the point of committing myself to doing something I wanted to see it through, but have since learned that  it’s okay to make adjustments. A three-month time period allows me to go all in and focus on one or two areas of my life that are especially relevant to me at the time, and at the end of the three months when it’s time to step into a new season, I get to create a whole new set of goals that align with what I want to achieve in the next quarter of the year.   

Short-term goals inspire me to be gentler with myself. 

If I’m focusing on a smaller scale, a little mistake ends up feeling like a huge one. If I have my sights set on morning journaling three times a week and I only do it twice, that can feel like more of a disappointment if I’m only looking at my progress over the course of one week. When I think of a whole season though, one missed day doesn’t seem as monumental. I can look back at my progress and see that only missing a few days in three months is a big accomplishment, and I can be proud of myself for sticking with it.

As someone with perfectionist tendencies, it’s easy for me to dwell on mistakes and beat myself up over small mishaps. But the three-month model encourages me to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. It helps me to be gentle with myself, to speak kindly to myself, and to embrace imperfect, steady progress. Because at the end of the day, I’m still moving closer to my goals slowly but surely, one day at a time.