Are Your Living Your Own Personal Groundhogs Day?

Today is Groundhogs Day.

If you aren’t familiar with the tradition, the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers believed that if a groundhog (a rather large woodland rodent) awakened from his hibernation, emerged from his burrow, and saw his shadow, he would return to hibernation for another six weeks. The significance being that if the groundhog returned to hibernation, we would have six more weeks of winter. If he didn’t see his shadow, spring was right around the corner. Every year, on this day, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (and other towns in the region) thousands of people gather to see if “Phil” predicts and early spring.

Back in the early 1990s, Billy Murray stared in the film “Groundhogs Day” in which he played Phil, a self-centered, apathetic weatherman sent to cover the Punxsutawney festivities. While on assignment, he finds himself in a sort of time loop in which he relives the same day, over and over, though no one else is aware of the repetition.

No matter what Phil does during the day, when he wakes up, his day starts all over again. Initially he uses the loop to over indulge in reckless behavior without consequence, but soon gets depressed over the sameness of his situation and attempts suicide. When that doesn’t work, he decides to use his days to better himself and to improve the lives of those around him. In doing so, he eventually breaks the cycle, finds love, and presumably lives happily ever after.

Originally, the film was met with little interest, but over the years has become a cult hit and is discussed in Universities and lecture series in the context of religious tenants, rebirth and death, and even transcendentalism.

This movie has always been a favorite of mine. I think that everyone goes through periods of time when they feel that they are in a loop of endless, same days. The is especially true if you are struggling to regain control of your life. It can be far too easy to give in to the apathy or to the belief that nothing can change. But it simply isn’t true. If you are stuck in your own version of Groundhogs Day, this is how you break the spell.

1. Visualize Your Best Life

I’m not talking about a fantasy life where you live in a palace, drive luxury sports cars, and spend your days with your favorite celebrity crush. I am talking about YOUR best life right now. If you felt confident and were successful in your personal and private lives, what would that look like?

When I was really stuck in my own time loop, I got up, grabbed a pair of sweats, put my hair in a pony tail, choked down pop tarts, while driving the kids to school in silence. I was a zombie. Of course, that wasn’t my best life. I had accepted a routine that was unhealthy, uninspiring, and didn’t help me create a good platform for the rest of my day. Additionally, I found myself embarrassed when I ran into people. I knew that they weren’t seeing me at my best and fair or not, made value judgments about me, my professional ability, even my parenting ability.

So, I started to visualize what the best version of my day would look like. What would I look like? What would I eat? How would I feel? How would I interact with my kids? How would creating a different start to my day change my entire outlook?

In my best life, I would:

  • wake up refreshed and ready to take on the world

  • put on some clothes that I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in

  • eat something that was filing and healthy

  • get the kids to school without everyone feeling rushed and miserable

  • interact with my kids in a positive way that helped them start their day on a positive note

2. Identify Areas that Need Change

I find that when I break down big problems, into mini-problems, I feel much more confident in my ability to solve the problem. If I said “my morning sucks” I would be unlikely to do anything accept add “feel like a failure” to my list of problems.

Instead, identify what isn’t working as individual issues. When I got up, I was tired already. Because I was tired and depressed, I didn’t care about how I looked. Even though I threw on what was close at hand and didn’t bother with my hair or makeup, I still always felt rushed for time and so grabbed pop tarts and ran out the door.

So, the areas that I needed to address were:

  • tiredness

  • apathy about how I presented myself

  • food choices

  • feeling rushed

  • interaction with my kids.

3. Make SMALL Changes

I know that there are people who can make a huge sweeping change in their life and it sticks. I am not one of those people. I have found that making small changes allows me to more realistically achieve my goals.

I was always tired, but the fact is, stayed up late watching TV and eating snacks. I rarely went to bed before 1am and sometimes stayed up until 2am. Since the kids had to be at school by 8:20, I simply wasn’t getting enough sleep.

  • While it was tough the first few days, I started to go to bed at 11:30 and getting up an hour earlier. Having that extra hour was amazing.

  • When I searched my closet to find something practical but stylist for the school run, I discovered that I really didn’t have anything at all. I had suits and evening clothes (in a wide variety of sizes) for work and events and I had shapeless, unflattering, sweat suits.

    I thought about how I dressed when I was happier and more confident. I bought myself a couple pair of Isaac Mizrahi loafers on QVC (so comfortable), a couple pairs of capri pants, and a couple oxford style shirts (a staple of my days in college and when I fancied myself an artist.) Before I went to bed, I laid out a shirt and pair of pants and when I got up in the morning, discovered that pulling on capris and buttoning up an oxford, and slipping on loafers took no longer than grabbing sweats, but I looked and felt much better and I wasn’t embarrassed when I ran into people.

    I also decided that I needed a bit of a hair refresh. I have naturally fine, thin, bone straight hair which had gotten so long that the only thing I could do with it was put it into a ponytail. A cut with layers for volume meant that I really could just run a brush through my hair and go.

  • I collect old vinyl (albums). The extra time in the morning meant that I could indulge in what has become my new morning ritual. I put on an album, brew myself a cup of green tea (an acquired taste to be sure), and have a slice of bread while I read positive dailies of interest to me (books, art, and science.) Some days it’s the New York Times Book Review, sometimes its Art Daily, and some days it’s Science Daily. Old albums usually run less then 30 minutes for a side to play, so that gives me 30 minutes to listen, consume positive information, and eat something healthy.

    Just as important, the kids have taken to eating better as well, often joining me for breakfast at the table.

  • With the other extra 30 minutes, we were able to get to school on time. Because I had been reading interesting things about art and science, we had things to talk about on the drive. The kids weren’t happy at first, but I initiated a “headset free” drive time and we have all benefited from increase connection.

By making several small changes, our entire morning and in fact, our entire day changed for the better.

4. Celebrate Successes, Don’t Dwell on Setbacks, and Change What Doesn’t Work

While making small changes make change easier, bad habits can be deeply ingrained and difficult to break without vigilance. It can be easy to fall back into a destructive loop. Celebrate your successes, but if you fall back into a bad habit, recognize it, accept that change is hard, and start again.

Its also possible that you will find that your idea of your best life changes. I originally thought that my best life would include 20 minutes every morning on my thread mill. In practice however, I found that exercising first thing meant I had to add showering and hair drying to my morning routine, there was a backup to use the showers, and I felt anxious about time. Ultimately, I added exercise to my afternoon routine and pre-bed routine, which is a better fit for me.

Change what doesn’t work.

5. Once Your Reach a Goal, Make a New One

Reaching goals helps us all build confidence in our selves and in our ability to master problems. Once you have reached a goal, create a new one.

After I got my morning routine down, I started to think about my evening routine, how I spent my weekends, and even the types of people I wanted to spend my time with. I didn’t try to make changes all at once, which for me would have likely resulted in failure. But I did take a particular problem, break it down, and address the issues individually. The result? I am much happier, more able to deal with negative events in life (because I see them as small individual problems rather than an over shadowing dark cloud), healthier, and I have been able to create more times for things that make me more successful in my professional like and more engaged in my personal life.

Stop living in your own Groundhog’s day…..but do check out the movie if you haven’t seen in.

Alexandrea Merrell