Don’t Wait for Tax Day: Break the Procrastination Cycle

As Tax Day looms, many of us find ourselves waiting until the last minute to get those forms in. Scott Bea, PsyD, explains why we tend to procrastinate and what lasting effects it can have on our brains.

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CLEVELAND – As tax day looms, many of us find ourselves waiting until the last minute to get those forms in.

But according to Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, when we procrastinate, we engage in something called an ‘approach avoidance conflict.’

It’s what happens to our brains when we commit to something, but as we get closer to the event, we back away.

“The closer you get to it, the more you start thinking about it; the more those thoughts start to generate anxiety, it reaches a crescendo, and then you’re motivated to avoid,” said Dr. Bea. “When we avoid, the tension is reduced in our brains and that feels really good, so the next time we’re in that situation we’re inclined to do the same thing.”

Dr. Bea said the problem with procrastination is that it can give us the false notion that we accomplish tasks better when we’re under the gun. But really, our tendency to ‘put off today’ what can be ‘done tomorrow ‘ has more to do with our unwillingness to allow some discomfort into our lives.

He said many times we procrastinate out of habit, and because the feeling of not dealing with something we don’t want to do can feel good, it can become habit to always put things on the back burner.

Dr. Bea said it can take up to 63 days to create a new habit, which can seem daunting, but if we’re able to change our relationship with discomfort, it can work.

“All change requires that we allow discomfort,” he said. “If we’re going to change procrastinating, we’ve got to change our relationship with discomfort. ‘Bring it on,’ rather than, ‘don’t bring it my way,’ works better.”

Dr. Bea admits that procrastination is a difficult habit to break, even when we know there are consequences for not getting the job done. But with a little planning and by creating a personal reward for getting things accomplished, he believes we can find success.

“Create a pre-determined deadline; a scheduling of when I’m going to get to the taxes, and what day, and what time frame,” said Dr. Bea. “Dangle a carrot – as you get through your taxes, treat yourself to the movie you wanted to go to, or some treat with your family – create an incentive that is worthwhile moving toward.”

Dr. Bea reminds us that when we keep putting something off, it’s not as though we’re escaping it. Avoidance can create internal consequences – feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety. He said getting a task in our rearview mirror is always better than having to keep looking at it.

“If we accomplish something that makes us a little bit anxious or tense, our confidence actually goes up and our anxiety goes down,” he said. “But if we back away from it, it’s just the opposite – our confidence goes down and our anxiety goes up.”

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