How to Cure the “Why Bother?” Syndrome

You know what I’m talking about. It is the Achilles heel of those “chain” habits, where you get a streak of days doing That Thing that you want to make into a habit. “Don’t break the chain,” is what Jerry Seinfeld recommended.

But what happens when it breaks anyway?

Suddenly you feel like a failure. And that’s when the “Why bother?” monster comes along, looks at however many days you did the habit for, and gives you some version of this: “ Wow. You couldn’t even manage (number of days + 1) of that? Why are you even bothering to try?

That’s the problem with the “chain” method: it works great as long as life doesn’t come along and interrupt your best laid plans. It works wonderfully for people with a huge locus of control about their schedule and time — but for people with dependents, or jobs, or who happen to be inhabiting human bodies that get injured or sick — the “chain” habit is setting yourself up to fail. Because at some point, something will happen that will get in the way of your streak.

“Fail, Fail, and F*cking Fail Again”

That’s the motto on my partner’s coffee mug; I got it for her as she began seriously to dip her toe into the entrepreneurial adventure. One thing that happens to almost every successful entrepreneur: they fail. Products don’t work, campaigns attract no customers, businesses run out of money or become obsolete or just become uninteresting. That happens to almost everyone. There is, however, one particular difference between those that are “successful” (whatever that means) and those that aren’t.

The successful people kept on failing until they didn’t. The others decided they were tired of failing, and decided to succeed at something else.

You get that, right? Regardless of what your life looks like, you are succeeding at something. Maybe it’s nothing more than “I got out of bed and read a blog, but look! You did it!

If you find yourself less-than-overwhelmed by that accomplishment, then it’s possible that one or both of these things are going on:

  1. You are not giving yourself enough credit. We are always our own worst critic. Many of us are conditioned to not give ourselves the kind of compassion we would give others. Try stepping outside yourself, imagine what you’d tell someone else who faced the challenges you faced and did the things you did. Would you tell them they didn’t do enough?
  2. You’re not dreaming big enough. If you’re succeeding, but not feeling satisfied, then it’s time to raise the bar. Pick out something that is harder than the last thing you did. Heck, decide that your goal is to pick out something that you will fail to accomplish — so that you can succeed at getting better at failing.

One of my Mastermind partners set a goal months ago: I want a job with a paycheck. That was his goal, plain and simple. Last week, after months of persistent work, he got a job with a paycheck. The first thing he did was start to talk about all the ways the job wasn’t the kind of job he really imagined himself in at this point in his career.

My response: You set your goal. You achieved it. If it’s not what you want, set another goal.

Get Up Eight

In college, my Kabuki teacher gave me a card that meant a whole lot to me. I struggled in school as a single parent/freelancer/full-time student, and he saw that. He let me know with a simple and beautiful paper-cut art piece with the inscription:

Fall Down Seven Times,
Get Up Eight.

That card kept me going far more times than I think he ever realized. And it’s also the secret to what you do when you get the job you didn’t want, or your business goes belly-up, or you break the chain on your phone app, or, more famously, when you fall off the horse:

Get back up.