Just when it looks like the market is on the mend, pow! Something upends the advance. A surprisingly strong jobs report is the most recent reason stocks are suddenly struggling again. It could mean the Federal Reserve must maintain its aggressive interest rate hikes for the indefinite future, dragging the market lower as a result.

Or, maybe it won't. This week's rough start could merely be a temporary stumble before the rally effort underway since October gets going again. Nobody really knows.

What if, however, figuring out if the stock market's already hit bottom misses a much bigger point? Here's a much more important question you should be asking yourself right now while stocks are at a crossroads.

Statistically speaking, it's not the bottom yet

First and foremost, nobody knows if October's low was the bear market bottom or not. One never truly knows where the bottom is, or was, until well after the fact.

Statistically speaking, though, October's low isn't the ultimate bear market low for several reasons.

Not the least of these reasons is recently published research from Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank. All three research houses fear the S&P 500 (^GSPC -1.46%) could fall more than 20% from its current levels, early in 2023 once a bevy of economic challenges truly start to gel. Shrinking earnings expectations are likely to be the key driver of that newfound doubt.

The thing is, the timing of this potential last leg of the current bear market actually makes sense.

Number-crunching by brokerage firm Charles Schwab indicates the average bear market lasts for about 15 months, shaving 38% off the S&P 500's value in the process. Knocking another 20% off of the S&P 500's present value early in the coming year would translate into a 33% pullback from the index's peak hit nearly 12 months back. And, it would almost be a 15-month rout by the time that stumble could run its full course.

Long-term investors shouldn't sweat history too much, since no two situations or economic backdrops are ever exactly the same. Still, averages are averages for a reason.

This line of thinking obscures a far more pertinent question, however: Is looking for a bear market low worth the risk of not seeing it when you most need to?

Answer: Not really.

Not worth the risk of missing out

Don't misunderstand. Stepping into stocks at the exact bear market low maximizes your eventual gain stemming from a new bull market. It only maximizes that gain, however, if you're confident enough -- and lucky enough -- to buy stocks at the bottom. Lots of investors say they're that brave. But not many investors actually have the guts to pull that trigger when the time comes.

It matters because you want to be sure you're in the market right at the end of bear markets.

Research by Edward Jones indicates the S&P 500 rallied an average of 25% during the first three months of each of the past five bull markets. In a similar vein, mutual fund company Hartford says around one-third of the market's biggest daily gains for the past 20 years have taken shape during the first two months of new bull markets -- a feat made even more impressive by the fact that half of the market's biggest daily gains during this time materialized during bear markets.

If you're not in the market right at the onset of a new bull market, it's costing you; it's potentially costing you more than you'd save by just sticking with your stocks and possibly taking some lumps for doing so. Given how unlikely it is you'll be able to identify the exact bottom for the stock market while it's happening, most investors are better served by not trying to do so in the first place.

Less can be more

Some investors reading this will appreciate the idea and opt to not even bother trying to figure out if stocks have or haven't bottomed yet. Others will try do so anyway, despite knowing the risk.

Even for the few folks who can time the market with near-perfection though, keep this in mind: You're going to be chained to a computer screen and beholden to market news for several more weeks, if not months. There are better and more enjoyable ways to spend that time, with about the same long-term investment payoff in the end. Hartford adds that the average bull market dishes out gains of more than 100% from trough to peak. That makes any of the scant timing-based savings or the potential for missing the early gains of new bull markets not quite worth the risk anyway.