“Gnothi seauton,” or, “know thyself,” was once inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

It seems fairly pointless to start any journey, esp. one such as long and trying as getting one’s self out of debt, without at least a healthy dose of introspection first. Most importantly, one needs to determine what habits and tendencies they have working for or against them along the way.

There are a number of external factors that helped me get into debt, but it’s still all based around personal decisions made along the way and so the majority of the blame must rest on my own shoulders. That sounds like I’m being hard on myself, but the truth is I’ve got to be realistic if I’m going to be successful.

Let me start with my bad habits and work back up to the positives.

The Bad

1. Procrastinating

This is the big one.

I definitely put off tasks that I’m not “in the mood” to deal with at a given time, often until it’s too late. Worse, it can create vicious circles.

Effect: It has caused a few late payments in the past, but for the most part it causes me to delay in doing things that will get me out of the ruts I’m already in.

[Unfortunately, it has also has affected the writing/publishing of this post.]

2. Taking on too many tasks

Because I’m easily distracted and/or don’t have enough discipline, I like to take on or start new projects (another way of procrastinating). This means too many issues on my mind, too many tools for procrastination, resulting in mostly uncompleted projects and setting myself up for lots of failure.

There is a high chance that this could affect this project, so that’s why it’s vital for me to have accountability.

Effect: I have attempted to save for various projects many times in the past only to get distracted by something else.

3. Not planning ahead

I frequently don’t take the time to assess situations completely and plan my actions thoroughly, so my estimations appear quite poor in retrospect.

However, this is actually a byproduct of procrastination. The more I procrastinate, the more likely I am to have to take action on a task without having properly prepared for it.

4. Getting stuck in my ways

I can definitely get stuck in my ways and not be as open to change as I should be, and that has a propensity to hold me back.

Example: Not using online bill payment services because “I liked” writing checks and mailing them. I felt I had more guarantee that a payment was actually on the way, but I was paying for checks, stamps, plus having to drive to the post office way too frequently.

And The Good

1. Being a perfectionist/anal-retentive

Not always a good thing, but I’m very anal about having some things perfect, esp. knowing where all my money (or, more precisely, debt) is. Numbers are an easy thing to obsess over.

Examples: I keep all my bills & statements nicely filed in my desk. I keep my accounts balanced within a couple of days. I even assess my bills, arrange them chronologically, and mark them on my calendar as soon as I open them.

2. Diving in to learn new things

As much as this is very much a tool for procrastination, it’s also good to know that given a problem and setting my mind on it I can learn mostly anything. I do this day in and day out. It’s my hobby and my job.

3. I can pick up new habits

Even an old dog can learn new tricks. I’m young, I have plenty of time to pick up new habits. It just takes a lot of practice and discipline.

Example: “Assess[ing] my bills, arrang[ing] them chronologically, and mark[ing] them on my calendar as soon as I open them.” I built that habit and it works very well.

The Balancing Act

Habits are like a triple beam balance. You know: one of those mechanical scales.

You’re trying to get your life into an even balance, so you’re trying slowly shift around your habits (big and small) so that you can be where you want to be. Some have a higher weight (procrastination, in my case), some are smaller (like processing my bills as soon as they come in) and they all will have an effect on the balance.

I actually have less to worry about procrastinating paying my bills because I have already planned when each needs to be payed. I’ve been sending checks electronically from my bank account, so it only takes a minute to pay a bill. All this gives me a pretty good balance for paying bills on time, but there are bigger aspects of my finances that need to be in balance as well.

I’m going to start building the better smaller habits to try to counter procrastination and therefore reduce the effective weight it has in the balance of my financial life.