Updated: Feb 8, 2019
Every February 2, we celebrate Groundhog Day, an annual tradition in which the sighting of its shadow by a groundhog in Pennsylvania predicts how much longer winter will last. Say what you will about the validity of such prognostication, one thing is indisputable: this holiday inspired the quintessential film about the value of personal growth and responsibility.
In fact, Groundhog Day is what I often prescribe for my clients, particularly when they find themselves in a rut, stagnant, or unable to move forward. The lesson this comedy teaches us about living an authentic and varied life is invaluable.
Phil Conners, a local weatherman played with characteristic aplomb by Bill Murray, has a debilitating problem: he literally relives the same day over and over. On assignment in Punxsutawney to cover the Groundhog Day celebration, Phil wakes up on February 2 at 6am to the sound of "I Got You Babe" on the radio; this detail--along with every other moment of his day--repeats itself in exactly the same manner on each successive day. The cycle continues regardless of how hard he tries to change or control his destiny.
And to be sure, he tries.
After studying the daily pattern of a Brinks truck, for instance, Phil figures out how to acquire a large sum of money, hoping wealth will free him from the rut. But the following day, he wakes up exactly as he has since the vicious cycle began; nothing has changed. In another sequence, he struggles to save a homeless man from dying; but the man was always going to die, despite any of Phil's repeated attempts at heroics. He continues to wake up at the beginning of the same day; nothing has changed.
Most of Phil's efforts to escape stagnation center around his attempts to win the affections of his co-worker, Rita. Aware that his day will repeat no matter what he does, Phil plots and schemes to curry her favor. He takes information learned--her likes, her dreams and passions--and attempts to use it the next day as if he instinctively knows everything about her. In the short-term, it appears to work. Rita is amazed by how well Phil seems to understand and connect with her. But no matter how he tries to manipulate his way to her heart, or how hard he labors to control what happens to him, Phil wakes up alone the next day--exactly the same as the day before. At the height of his despair, Phil tries to kill himself: what is the point of living, he reasons, if every day is just going to be the same? But even this fails; nothing has changed.
And then something miraculous happens. Phil stops trying to change the external realities of his life and decides to focus on the one thing over which he has any control: himself.
He embarks on a path of self-improvement, taking piano lessons and learning ice sculpture for the sheer pleasure it affords him. He becomes kinder to himself and to others, helping people without expectation of reciprocity. There is no more manipulation or attempt to control others; Phil only endeavors to be the best possible version of himself. And wouldn't you know it--Rita is now genuinely drawn to him. The next morning, Phil wakes up to a brand new day, with Rita snuggling comfortably beside him. A new song is playing on the radio. The rut is over.
And so it can be for you as well.
Phil's journey looked more like science fiction than reality, but the metaphor is unmistakable. Are you in a rut? Does it seem like no matter what you do or how you try to change the circumstances in your life, things stay the same? The answer--as it did with Phil--lies within. Focus your energy and effort on what you can do to be the best version of yourself. Drop the illusion that your situation or relationships can be controlled, find your ice sculpture, and as Ghandi instructed: "be the change you wish to see in the world." You too can wake up from your stagnation to a different day, full of new directions and promise.