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Why doing your taxes could be good for your health

by Sandy Braz  |  April 13/2012  |  , ,

The April tax deadline has a way of sneaking up on you. In January you tell yourself there’s plenty of time to file your taxes. By February you promise to have it all sorted out by Valentine’s Day. By March you are definitive and decide it’s time for serious action and, hey, you work better under pressure anyway.

“It’s just not so”, says Timothy Pychyl, an award-winning professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. His research focuses on the science and behavior behind procrastination and how it affects self-image. He also authors the popular blog procrastination.ca.

Although tasks like filing taxes or organizing personal finances can feel like a daunting process involving the tedious collection of documents, bills and receipts, that doesn’t mean that putting them off will make you feel better in the long run.

Short term benefit that doesn’t last

In fact, the temporary sense of relief you get can actually be destructive. In psychology circles, the immediate gratification we receive with procrastination is known as short term mood repair.

According to Pychyl, “when there is dissonance between our actions (such as doing nothing) and our thoughts (I shall log my expenses daily!), we feel like imposters. While we’ve experienced short term benefit, if we miss just one more, small, self-imposed deadline, professor Pychyl says, without a doubt this will affect you mentally and emotionally. Having a plan to “do things later” makes us feel at ease in the moment, until we arrive at “later”, don’t do the task we promised, and let ourselves down yet again. Over time, this can even deplete our self-image and even our happiness.

How finances improve your self-image

This New York Times article on “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness” delved into some of the mental hazards that can come along with seeking happiness out. Not surprisingly, procrastination is one of these hazards; from putting off personal finances to putting off home repair, it’s our intrinsic need for gratification that can lead us to say things like, “Nah, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Building self-confidence through small tasks first, whether it’s pushups before a shower or inputting daily expenses, turns out to be key to helping your self-esteem get a lift. Pychyl’s advice? “Reaffirming my values around exercise and challenging the irrationality of saying that I’m too busy provides me with the willpower I need and removes the excuses.” He adds, “I don’t over-think it. I just get started.”


  • http://www.zacharymcclung.com Zachary McClung Freelance Consultant

    I have found that when you procrastinate stressful events like taxes, when you are having a bad day or you there is another stressful item on your plate, it tends to trigger the big pink elephant you have hid away. Which can make an already stressful situation even more stressful.

  • http://freshbooks.com sandyb

    Great question – the idea is that completing smaller, simple tasks consistently can help build self confidence; not only are we being successful repeatedly by completing these small tasks, but using small tasks as a stepping stone to completing more complex tasks (like filing taxes, for instance) can also help build self-esteem.

    I hope this clears that up a bit – it was a great piece of advice from our expert. Thanks for reading!


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