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. Plus, 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 a popular blog on the psychology of procrastination.
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 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.”