Thursday, 2 February 2017

Are you having a Groundhog Day?

Today is Groundhog Day. How many of us have had the repetitive experience of Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in the classic film Groundhog Day?

For those unfamiliar with the film, allow me to give a summary. Otherwise feel free to skip this paragraph. In the film, Phil wakes up each day to the same day, 2 February also known as Groundhog Day. The same song on the radio, the same people, the same events. He's stuck in a cycle. He reacts angrily and becomes hedonistic, especially when he realises there are no consequences to his actions. He descends to the point where he kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) and kills them both but still wakes up to the same day. Suddenly, Phil has a shift and starts along another approach. Instead of fighting his experience, he embraces the opportunities and uses them to learn new skills, to correct wrongs and make the town a better place.

What happened to cynical and self-centered Phil Connors? You'd find it hard to argue that his circumstances changed, after all, the whole premise of the film is that everything external is constant. I was recently discussing the effect of conditioning from repeated exposure to the same events. We see something like this with the increase of Phil's violence and anger over time. Each day he gets more and more frustrated with what he cannot change. This fails to explain the sudden change that Phil undergoes. If this was getting used to being stuck, I'd expect a gradual change.

So how would I explain the fact that Phil one day saw a homeless guy needlessly die and changes his whole focus to taking the steps needed to save him? He let go of previous thoughts and became able to have a new thought. The plight of the homeless guys was always there yet now Phil was more present and was open to seeing him. Throughout the film, Phil's mind is the only things that he can control. His state of mind fluctuates and his thoughts vary.

So back to real life and my original question. In my own life, I sometimes have Groundhog days. I'm woken up at the same time, by the same radio station on my radio alarm clock. (Perhaps radio alarms clocks are a bad thing!) Whilst it is not the same exact song, the theme and presenters narrative is familiar. I face the same internal struggle to get myself ready in time to get to work. I go to the same job, doing the same work, with the same people. Even outside of work, it's the same routine, same friends and social activities. It's all repetition. Even when I try to make the most of my surroundings, either constructively or destructively, little appears to change.

How do I break the cycle? It all starts with a change in Thought. The situation does not have to change for my experience to change. Worse still, the circumstances can be different but my experience of life no different. It is only my thoughts and consciousness that determine how I perceive the world around me. When I am in a lower state of mind, the world seems like a battle to overcome and everything is stale. However in higher states life is full of opportunities and I am entertained by the details, whether they are fresh or repeated. Who doesn't enjoy when they hear their favourite classic song on the radio?

So, when I recognise that it is me that can change, things seem different. Being in a Groundhog Day is less important or relevant.

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