The April tax season 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 the paperwork completed by Valentine’s Day. By March you really 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 procrastinating and how it affects self-image. He also authors the popular blog procrastination.ca.
Although pesky tasks like filing taxes or organizing personal finances can feel like a daunting process—one that involves the tedious collection of documents, bills and receipts—it doesn’t mean setting them aside will make you feel better in the long run.
Procrastination Has a Short-Term Benefit that Won’t Last
In fact, the temporary sense of relief can actually be destructive. In psychology circles, the immediate gratification we receive with procrastinating 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.
Finances Actually Improve Your Self-Image
This New York Times article on “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness” explained some of the mental hazards that can come along on your journey to happiness. Not surprisingly, procrastinating is one of these hazards, from putting off personal finances to putting off home repair. It’s our intrinsic need for immediate gratification that can lead us to say things like, “Nope, 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 boosting your self-esteem. 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.”