Stuck in an Unhappy Loop? Here’s how to Break out of the Circumstance Thinking Trap and Change Your Life: A Lesson from Groundhog Day

“Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.” –Groundhog Day

Are you feeling stuck in an unsatisfying loop?

Do you wake up each day to the same depressing job, relationship, home, and financial problems?

Do you feel like you can’t change things until external circumstances change—circumstances that are totally beyond your control?

In other words, does your life feel like the movie Groundhog Day?

“It’s the same thing every day: clean up your room, stand up straight, pick up your feet, take it like a man, be nice to your sister, don’t mix beer and wine ever. Oh yeah, don’t drive on the railroad tracks.” –Phil Connors, Groundhog Day

In case you haven’t seen the film, here’s a quick summary:

The morning after Groundhog Day, a day throughout which he felt continually annoyed and frustrated by his circumstances, Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors wakes up to find himself caught in a time loop.

Instead of waking up on February 3rd, the way one expects to after February 2nd, Phil finds himself repeating February 2nd over, and over, and over again.

Phil tries everything he can think of to escape the time loop. But when he continues to wake up on the same day…every day…over and over again!…he finally accepts that it’s not his circumstances that are going to change: it’s himself.

In embracing this epiphany, Phil is finally is forced to finally take responsibility for his own experience. He is going to keep waking up the exact same circumstances every day. He can’t change that, no matter how what he tries (and he tries a lot of things). What he can change is how he responds to and engages with his circumstances.

He’s helped along to this point of view by his crush Rita, who suggests, “Sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes….I don’t know, Phil. Maybe it’s not a curse. Just depends on how you look at it.”

It just depends on how you look at it.

Phil Connors starts each day in the same irritating surroundings… With the same amount of money… The same job he hates… The same annoying colleagues… The same unsatisfying love life… And the same 24 hours that every single one of us gets in any given day.

And ultimately [spoiler alert!] he makes it a good day.

A GREAT day.

Hilarious and sometimes-silly as this film is, we can learn a lot from Phil and his journey through this existential loop.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you fed up yet with being the victim of your circumstances?
  • Are you ready to change your life?
  • When will you get sick of chalking your experience of life up to your outer circumstances?
  • Is it time yet to get in the driver’s seat of your life?

If so, do it how Phil did it:

Look between the lines of your everyday routine.

Look your same old circumstances right in the eye…and choose to do something different today.

For example…

  • Go to the bookstore and go to a section that you’ve never checked out.
  • Pick up the phone and call somebody you haven’t talked to in years.
  • Pick up a copy of your local paper, look at the listed events (some are probably free), and attend one.
  • Volunteer—don’t just think about it—actually do it!
  • Look for the good in everyone (even those who get under your skin) and actually verbalize your gratitude and appreciation.
  • Look for the good in yourself, too!
  • Talk nicely to yourself for a change, instead of letting your nasty inner critic rule the day.
  • Take a class (or watch a Youtube series or read a book) to learn a new skill.
  • Spend a day imagining that you have a gift to give every single person you meet—and then endeavor to do that. (Remember, gifts can be a kind word, a smile, a quick favor…)
  • Decide that your circumstances are PERFECTLY DESIGNED to help you grow in exactly the way you are meant to today.

For one day, decide that you have everything you need to have a great day.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am not saying it’s EASY to stay in the “post-epiphany Groundhog Day mindset”! Believe me, I am as susceptible to the Circumstance Thinking Trap—the belief that your circumstances are preventing your happiness—as much as the next gal.

It is much easier to connect with this concept from a place of already-grounded-ness than it is to practice it when you are feeling really in the pit—as I know from falling into that pit myself (trust me, I spent some real quality time in there in January!).

So when you DO fall into the Circumstance Thinking Trap, have compassion for yourself. Just gently notice it. “Oof, I’m in the CTT.” And ask yourself the questions, Given my exact circumstances, what is a different choice I could make right now? If I knew my circumstances would not change, what could I do to make my current experience great anyway? 

Here’s my prediction:

If you practice choosing your own experience, and making your day meaningful and valuable regardless of your circumstances, just like Phil Connors…

If you keep looking for the opportunity right in the center of your blind spots…

And if you keep being compassionate with yourself when you fall into the CTT…

You just may wake up one day to find it is finally February 3rd.

And that day might be way sooner than you think.

Happy Groundhog Day. May you make it a great one. <3

P.S. By the way, I am gearing up to teach a six-week workshop on this very topic: it’s all about how change your mindset to change your life. It starts this Tuesday. You can register here. 

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