Friday, January 12th was apparently the day when most us are feeling at our most despondent, having failed to stick to our New Year’s resolutions, with the season to be jolly now behind us, the cost of Christmas leaving our wallets decidedly emptier and the weather, well, wintery. Whatever your experience of landing in the New Year, it is a significant punctuation in the calendar and an opportunity to get curious. A question that we rarely ask is ‘why bother’. It’s a simple and direct question that’s often perceived as negative, yet it gets us straight to the point. Why bother? Why should we bother to do anything? If we don’t know why we are setting ourselves the goals, what’s the point in keeping them? Knowing the reason why is vital to give us the resolution to take action and follow through with it.
The template for how I live my own life and for how I work with patients and clients is the Hero’s Journey. This template for living and the quest of being human has been identified by scholars such as Joseph Campbell and is a theme that shows up across religion, myth and folklore. Now it is most visible in our movies where the hero is faced with tremendous challenges and through personal transformation tempered by these challenges, wins a decisive victory. It is easy to see this in popular ‘end of the world’ movies like by Ethan Hunt’s Mission Impossible or Frodo’s Fellowship of the Ring. What’s not so easy to see is how this can apply to our own lives where we are faced with seemingly less mythic experiences like health problems, raising children, doing our work well and not only discovering our own potential but living it.
When Frodo says to Gandalf in Lord of the Rings: ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, he replies ‘So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But it is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’. In the context of a heroic trilogy of fellowship and the defeat of evil, these words feel poignant and affirming. When faced with health problems or indeed any problems whether in our personal or professional life we often wish that they weren’t happening but indeed, the same reply applies. We all wish difficult and challenging things didn’t happen to us, I have yet to work with anyone who’s celebrated heartbreaking news or increased pain levels. What we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
Why bother? Clarity triggers action
For Frodo, his ‘why bother’ is clear. If his quest is unsuccessful evil will take over the world. For us mere mortals, the ‘why bother’ can feel a lot less clear. Why do something about symptoms? Why eat better? Why exercise more (or less)? Why spend less (or more) money? Why get more (or less) sleep? Why let people see who you truly are? Why keep a New Year’s resolution? It’s not as if evil will take over the world if we don’t follow through with it (well, unlikely at least). For every single person the ‘why bother’ will be unique to them but without knowing what it is we are unlikely to comprehend the impact of the changes and our life will continue the way it was but with the added sense of failure. It is often not until the cost of not making those changes becomes so high and so unbearable that our ‘why bother’ becomes glaringly obvious. Discomfort and frustration are often vilified as negative but just like aspiration and motivation they are a call to action for change and without getting curious about what’s going on and taking action, nothing changes.
Call to action
What triggers the Hero’s Journey is that call to action. Why bother taking that action? It’s the information that something isn’t as we need it to be, whether that’s symptoms, money, jobs, families, who we are, you name it. What is needed when we get that information is courage, the courage to acknowledge that action is needed, the courage to take that action and then to follow through with it. We often perceive courage as this fearless thing that others have and we don’t. In my experience courage is only needed when we are afraid. Courage and fear go hand in hand just like virtue remains hypothetical unless faced with temptation. It is the courage that defines the hero and so the reason to meet that fear and draw on that courage, the ‘why bother’ needs to be clear and visible to us. The people I support in my clinical work are some of the most courageous people I have ever met. Courage doesn’t always show up with fanfare but boy does it transform the person who lives it.
The 5 Why’s to Why bother?
So how do we discover our ‘why bother’? Well, it’s always more helpful to be curious than critical and so your invitation is to write down what you want to make happen and then ask yourself why bother making it happen. Is it because other people think it’s a good idea or because you feel you should? If that’s the case then that’s not your ‘why bother’, it’s theirs. So ask again and write down your answer. Then take your answer and ask again, following the same process. Actually ask and answer that question five times. Yes, five times. It’s amazing what you discover when you get curious and follow the clues. When you’ve got to your fifth and final ‘why bother’ and you still want to make this happen, make it visible. It can be anything, you can have a picture; an object or you can even have a song (like a theme tune in a movie). The only criteria are that it needs to be outside of your head (because you will forget, we all do). This will be your reminder when you doubt, as inevitably you will, why you are bothering at all.
In the movies, as indeed in all heroic journeys, the hero has allies or a crew. Whether it is the Fellowship of the Ring or the Mission Impossible Force (the espionage agency). Just like the question ‘why bother’ is often perceived as negative, asking for help is often perceived as weakness. Without the crew the film doesn’t get made. Without our own crew, we’re not going to reach our goals. It’s like in the old days when people believed the earth was flat. They genuinely believed that and if you walked too far, you’d fall of the edge. It took courage to travel to disprove that edge and prove that the earth is indeed round. It takes courage to ask for help if you don’t know just how powerful it is. Once you know how powerful it is, just like once you know the earth is round, the fear of falling of the edge will diminish and eventually dissolve.
Why bother? You are the hero in the movie that is your life. There is no one else living your life. What is your movie about? What are the challenges that you are facing? Who are your allies or crew on your Hero’s Journey and why o’ why do you bother?