February 2nd was Groundhog Day in North America. And as Punxsutawney Phil, the one and the only official Weather Forcasting Groundhog declared that there will be six more weeks of winter, I had started to lose hope to get back in the swing of writing. But then, came this guest post by Paul Hannam, the author of The Magic of Groundhog Day, the book that is based on the movie Groundhog Day.
Author Paul Hannam believes that watching the movie, Groundhog Day, will teach you more about life and work than anything else you can do in less than two hours! He has taught thousands of people on personal development, and taught management and organizational psychology at Oxford University and in his new book, The Magic of Groundhog Day, he explains why the movie is so inspirational and life-changing.
I have found the movie so invaluable because it helps me see each day as a unique opportunity to improve the way I think, feel and act. We all feel stuck at times in our life. The difference is that, in the movie, Phil Connors is literally stuck in the exact same, repeating day. The town never changes; the events and the people never change. Only he can change. It is impossible for Phil to have any control over his outer world, so he is forced to change himself.
Groundhog Day brilliantly dramatizes one of the greatest spiritual and psychological lessons – that change comes from within, and that only we can create meaning and happiness in our lives. Every form of therapy and every self-help technique supports this wisdom, and nothing illustrates it better than the movie.
Phil has to find a meaning and purpose for his life to survive and prosper. It is the only way out of the time loop, and it is our only way out of a rut. He transforms his life by experimenting each day with new thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. He changes his life day by day and transforms the worst day of his life into the best day of his life. I find this idea very inspiring.
All that changes is his perspective on life, and we can emulate this in our own lives to turn a miserable day into a magical day. We all share this remarkable gift, the capacity to make today better than yesterday – and tomorrow better than today.
An Experiment for Transforming your Life Day by Day
Try this experiment. Tomorrow, when you wake up, imagine how you would feel if you too were stuck in time, about to re-live yesterday in the same place, doing the same activities, repeating the same conversations with the same people. What would you do differently?
How would you have made yesterday better?
Maybe you would have been less harsh with your partner, or listened more attentively to a colleague who needed your help or perhaps you would have phoned a friend to tell them how much they meant to you. And what about work?
Would you have spent more time on that important project that could boost your career – and less time lost in thought about how you dislike your boss, or what you are going to do at the weekend?
Well, you can’t change yesterday but the good news is that you can change today. You can press your personal reset button and forget about yesterday. You don’t need to carry yesterday’s mood into today. Like Phil, you can choose to make this day terrible or great.
How do you transform a Miserable Day into a Great Day?
The first step is to stop living on automatic pilot, and return your awareness to the present moment. I call this the Magic of Paying Attention. In the movie, when Phil first arrives in Punxsutawney he is oblivious to the town and its people. He is sleepwalking through his life, completely self-absorbed. By the end of the movie he is awake, and absorbed not in his own ruminations but in the rich drama of the community he has learn to love and serve.
How about you? How much of what you do is the same as yesterday? How much of your day did you spend lost in thought, unconscious to life around you?
I believe that we largely re-live the same day again and again in our heads. We tend to have the same thoughts, the same emotions, the same hopes and anxieties and the same moods. We are not trapped by a time loop. We are trapped instead by our conditioning that is like a gravity that holds us down, keeping us stuck in old patterns and habits going back to our childhood. Every day can seem the same if we experience it through our past conditioning, rather than in the present moment.
The good news is that we can break free of our conditioning. It all starts by paying attention as soon as you wake up. Start by altering your routine when you get out of bed. Do some yoga stretches instead of watching the TV news, eat something different for breakfast and travel a different way to work. Then during the day catch yourself slipping back into conditioned responses.
Stop yourself falling back on the old patterns of seeking approval, being in control or avoiding conflict. These patterns are not you, and you can get out of your rut and experience the magic of everyday life when you are mindful and shift back to the present moment.
Experiment with a new response. When your partner looks at you in that annoying, disapproving manner don’t fall for it. Break your patterned response, and just smile. This is your greatest gift. You can choose to let your partner control your mood, or take back charge yourself and not let anyone or anything disturb your balance and peace of mind.
The genius of the movie is that it intensifies all the focus on us to change ourselves, because everything else is fixed. Every day, Phil can try a new behavior and then measure and evaluate the results. He learns to realize that he cannot seduce Rita, he cannot manipulate her to fall in love with him. It is only when he becomes genuinely loving that she falls in love with him. If you do the same as Phil, if you experiment and evaluate the results in your journal you will make subtle changes in just one day. Then over a week and a month this new self-awareness will lead to a significant transformation.
By practicing moment to moment awareness we come alive and experience a world of hope and possibility. This is the first, crucial step in leading the life you choose to live, not the life you were conditioned to live. This is the Magic of Groundhog Day!