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How to Break Out of a Rut: Lessons from the movie Groundhog Day

How to Get Out of a Rut: Lessons from the movie Groundhog Day
Image by ~Sage~

Note: This is a guest post by Paul Hannam, author of The Magic of Groundhog Day.

In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character, Phil Connors, is stuck in the same time and place. He is forced to relive the same day over and over again. In our own lives, I believe that we are stuck in our own version of Groundhog Day.

In our outer lives, in what we do at home and at work, many of us go through the same routines day after day – the same routine when we get up, the same commute, the same jobs, the same conversations with our colleagues and family.

And in our inner lives, what we think and how we feel, we tend to live the same day again and again too.

What traps us is not a time loop, but our conditioning that acts as a form of time loop as we are trapped by habits formed in our past. We experience each day through our conditioning – the same attitudes, thoughts, worries and emotions that we have carried with us since childhood.

So how do we break out of a rut?

The first thing that most of us do when we realize we are stuck is to look to make changes in our outer lives. This might mean changing jobs or leaving a relationship or making a grand new year’s resolution to change the way we look. Such changes rarely have the desired effect because we are changing the wrong things.

A new job, a new car or a new look might bring a fleeting send of happiness but it soon disappears. To bring about genuine change we need to change the way we see ourselves and the world, we need to change our inner lives and escape our conditioning.

In the movie Phil changes not by improving his outer life – he does not get richer; he does not become more famous or more powerful. No, he changes by transforming his inner life – his thinking, his attitudes and his feelings.

Five Tips for Achieving Lasting Change

1. Pay attention.

In the movie Phil starts to change when he stops living on automatic pilot and starts paying attention to the town and its people. When we stop to pay attention to what is going on in our life we step out of our routine and notice what is really going on in our lives. We realize we are far more than our compulsive thoughts or the repetitive roles we play. Take time each day to meditate, write a journal or just observe your thoughts and feelings. Every time you live in the present moment it becomes easier to get out of a rut, and take back charge of your life.

2. Change the patterns in your life.

Phil learns to make repetition work for him. He gets to know the underlying patterns of his life and learns to replace negative habits and routines with positive ones.

He shifts from a daily routine devoted to instant gratification and serving his ego, to one devoted to serving others. Perhaps the biggest change comes when you discover the key pattern of your conditioning, which is often a craving for approval or control or security. Once you recognize this pattern you can start to change it and overcome your conditioning. For years I have kept a diary and recommend everyone does the same. Then you can see how these patterns affect you, and then take daily steps to live the life you choose not the one you were conditioned to live.

3. Accept what you can and can’t change.

Phil is forced to accept that he can only survive his predicament and find meaning and purpose for his life, by changing himself. It is a magical point in the movie when he accepts that the time loop might be a blessing rather than a curse.

When you accept you are stuck, and accept that only you can change your life, you start to move on and break out of your rut. Like Phil, you accept that your old self and your old beliefs are no longer working; and you stop blaming others and begin to change yourself instead. This is truly transformative.

4. You have everything you need to create the change you want.

Phil recreates himself in the movie. He discovers he is the creator of his own experience and that he has all the resources he needs to change right now in the present moment.

The resources he uses to create the worst day of his life are the same ones he uses to create the best day of his life. He simply alters his interpretation of the people, the town and the events. This is our unique power as humans.

For it’s all about feelings. Whatever change we seek is ultimately a change of feelings. What is the point of being wealthy and powerful if you are always feeling restless, dissatisfied and miserable? We want to change our feelings and Phil shows us the most direct route to the feelings we all want – connection, peace of mind, meaning and, above all, love.

5. Genuine change comes from doing what we love.

Phil strips away everything meaningless in his life until he finds the essence, a life full of love. He falls in love with the town and its people; he falls in love with Rita and he learns to love himself too. And Love is the only direct route to genuine change in our lives and our careers too.

When we try to change to impress people, gain approval or avoid fear the change is usually temporary. When we act from love, change is so much easier and so much more enduring. The best thing I have ever done is work in the environmental sector where I can earn my living doing what I love, working with passionate people for a great cause which provides meaning and purpose in my life. Find what you love to do and do it because you love it – that is reason enough!

Paul Hannam is the author of the book The Magic of Groundhog Day.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great post! This is one of few movies where I seemed to pick up MANY valuable lessons and for that, its always been one of my favorite movies. I was pretty young when I first saw it ’93 but I still remember realizing many of the things you have pointed out in this post. Great summary and a HUGE list of lessons!

  • This is one reason I love reading this blog. There are always so man useful tips. I especially love #2 and #3. Change your life patterns every now and then and don’t worry about things you cannot change.

    Just great advice.

  • Tip #5 is key. We spend way too much time on meaningless nonsense. Celebrity watching is one that blows me away. But on a personal level, I spend to much time worrying about things that probably won’t happen. It is wired in, and very hard to break. But if you work at it you can make it better.

  • Wow! Just when I thought the posts here couldn’t get any better! Thanks for this great article! It’s all so true and useful.

    “take daily steps to live the life you choose not the one you were conditioned to live.” That is it – bringing it all to consciousness so that you can see what you need to change instead of just floating through life. Recognition is so crucial. Then we can change what we don’t like to what we do want to get the most out of life.

  • All 5 are excellent points. I like number one because it is such an important key to bringing more juice to your life.

    Paying attention means being present. Without attention, too much of life slips through our fingers.

    I just had a thought. I wonder if we don’t choose the tip that is most important for us to be reminded about?

    Either way, I will bring more attention to my day today and tomorrow.


  • joe

    excellent post and funny movie!


  • No wonder this seemingly simple comedy is one of my all time favorite movies, and has always received such critical acclaim. Apparently, it’s touched many people in similar ways.

    Some of life’s most important lessons are so simple.

  • Paul

    So many adages come to mind when reading this and thinking of the movie…. the pearls of wisdom in this article, the movie and across many other posts in this site echo some very distilled, simple rules for living well:

    – Know thyself
    – To thine own self be true
    – Perception is reality
    – Happiness= often appreciating what you have, not attaining what you do not
    – People are responsible for their own happiness
    – Love is the key to true happiness and contentment

    Thanks – this article synthesized a lot for me. I must review Ground Hog Day again – it’s been over 10 years since seeing it.

  • …Genuine change comes from doing what we love…


  • good list, thanks for these!

  • Great Post!!

    I find your blog very interesting and very informative.

    We often get caught in everyday loop that we forget what we really love. Breaking the loop and prioritizing our activities will give us more satisfaction in lives.

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