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The fifth season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman forced me to change my life.
I finished watching the latest version of the show in October. Thus, while everyone else is making their resolutions—which we seldom accomplish—I’m a few weeks ahead and holding my own. I haven’t rewatched the series yet, but playing it in my head continues to motivate me to live better. It can encourage you, too, but probably for all the wrong reasons.
Making a change isn’t new to me. Over the last 10 years, I’ve moved to a different state, changed career paths, and ended bad friendships. A few years ago, I ditched alcohol, soft drinks, and caffeine. Last year, I stopped using social media. Do I miss lattes and wine? Absolutely. However, my reasons for making those choices haven’t changed.
Nevertheless, by last October, I was feeling overly confident and proud of the adjustments I had made. That cockiness blinded me to the faults and habits still having a destructive impact on my life. BoJack Horsman humbled me, it made me question the purpose of my existence, and ultimately forced me to be better.
Why BoJack Breaks Us
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about BoJack Horseman. A few weeks after finishing the show, I wrote an article questioning if we should forgive his sexual predatory behavior. Shortly thereafter, I started writing an article about his effect on a viewer’s mental instability, but it was too raw and dark. Instead, I let the idea fester and nag at me further.
BoJack isn’t a hero, nor an anti-hero. He’s a damaged, neurotic, mentally unbalanced guy who abuses people, drugs, and himself. Some viewers—I assume—simply watch the show and stop thinking about it when they turn it off. However, the rest of us relate to BoJack. We see our parents, siblings, friends, or high school bullies in him. It’s as easy to establish a love-hate relationship with him, as it is with his real-life counterparts.
Sometimes we see ourselves. He holds a mirror in front of our damage and forces us to acknowledge our own flaws. Do we break our promises? Do we fail to make changes? Do we disappoint ourselves and those around us?
If you answered “yes” to those questions, there’s no need to worry. We all make mistakes. The real question you have to ask is this: Do you do these things consciously or habitually?
BoJack certainly does. He constantly makes and fails to keep his resolutions. He promises to change, as he pleads for love, then breaks those promises immediately. So it should be no surprise that watching him falter forces us to realize our own demons. If we watch long enough, he’ll push us past denial and break us.
What Breaking Feels Like
In this sense, “breaking” isn’t the same as sadness or disappointment. It’s not like the strain from day-to-day stressors or irritation at the small injustices. It isn’t even despair. Instead, it is a feeling of something crumbling deep within your psyche.
It is a void. It is a whirlwind of emotion too fast to grasp. It is a feeling of falling and spiraling into emptiness. It is the snap of a twig that only you can hear. It is the collapse of a structure only you can see. It envelops you and makes you its own.
It is real and it is dangerous. It leads to depression, self-harm, addiction, and suicide.
But it can also lead to great change.
Standing on the Edge
All of the characters have their flaws and most are tormented in some way, but BoJack is broken. Arguably the most raw example is in “Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” the sixth episode of the fourth season. Numerous articles dissect this episode, which shows what it’s like to truly hate yourself and tussle with severe mental illness. If it’s ever argued that BoJack Horseman should come with a trigger warning, that’s the episode to end the debate.
If the show breaks you, maybe you'll experience something like this:
“I turned off the television. I laid on the carpet, my fingers interlocked behind my head, and closed my eyes. I felt the whirlwind, saw the void, and tried to imagine what nothingness would feel like. It would be quiet and dark, perhaps peaceful. However, there are things I want to do and I want to see what becomes of the people in my life. Hopefully, death will wait.
“I opened my eyes, stood, and walked over to the couch. I sat there for hours, quietly staring at nothing, allowing my thoughts to form organically, and debating what it was about my life I wanted to change.”
Making a Change (or 10)
I had no intention of changing only one habit. My goal wasn’t to start going to the gym or to get organized. It was to be a better person. I cannot share characteristics or habits with BoJack. I must be better than him and there is no alternative.
This requires me to make changes that shouldn’t be difficult, but are. Minimize screen time and read more. Exercise and eat healthier. Meditate and spend time with people I love. Balance my time and get enough sleep. Practice kindness and let thing go.
Thus far, I’m doing okay. I make mistakes, but I don’t fixate on them. The happiness that comes from those changes is its own reward. But if I ever need motivation, I know where to find it...
Advice from experts usually includes the following:
- Make one change at a time.
- Allow yourself to make mistakes.
- Give yourself plenty of time to create a new habit or routine.
- Set yourself reasonable milestones and be proud of your accomplishments.
That guidance is tested and reasonable. Honestly, it’s almost certainly healthier than my approach.
But if in two or four weeks you're losing motivation, here's my advice: Watch BoJack Horseman and terrify yourself into being better.
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