Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day?
It’s a classic movie from the 1990’s. In it, Bill Murray plays a weatherman. He goes to the small town of Punxsutawney in February. To report if the groundhog will predict 6 more weeks of winter. (A strange tradition here in the US, if you think about it.)
He wakes up the next morning. And finds that he is destined to experience the exact same day over and over and over again. The same song on the morning radio (I Got You, Babe). The same run-in with an overzealous insurance salesman.
At first he is confused, then angry and frustrated. He tries everything to change the circumstances around him. And he can’t. Then he becomes resigned. Over and over he repeats that same day.
It is only when he realizes that he can’t change the day. He can only change himself. Then he evolves into a different person. People respond to him in a different way. So he can finally live a different day.
Do you ever feel like your life is the movie Groundhog Day? We can all identify with that movie. Because we’ve all been in a phase of our lives where we feel like we are fated to repeat the same day over and over. Get up, go to work, eat dinner, go to bed. We want more, different, better. But we don’t know how.
We can’t always change the circumstances of our life. But we can change our approach to it. And the choices we make.
Here are a few steps that can help get you out of that same day.
Be mindful of how you spend your time
Many of us feel trapped in our day because of our sense that we don’t have enough time. We want more time to focus on our health, or work on a passion project. But we have to spend a certain number of hours per day at our job. We have a commute. We have family commitments. People need things from us and we have to provide them.
But is that true? Keep track of everything you do in a day. Write it down for a few days, either on a piece of paper or in your phone. Will you find that you are you spending 2 hours a day looking at Instagram? Are you doing tasks at work that are someone else’s job? Tasks you took on because it was just easier, or because you didn’t want to say no?
Keeping track of your day can be a first step toward understanding what goes in to that daily grind. To figuring out what are the essential tasks. And finding opportunities for change.
Figure out what is working for you — and what isn’t
Once you track your day, you might see some things that surprise you. Or don’t align with the priorities of your life. Let’s say you spent 2 hours at a parent association meeting for your kids’ school last week. You did it because you want to stay involved in your kids’ lives. (And because someone asked you to come and you didn’t want to say no.). But when you think about it, you had to get a babysitter to watch your kids during those two hours. Or leave work during that time. You didn’t actually learn anything about your kids. You weren’t even with them.
So when you stand back and assess your actions, you can see that they didn’t have the intended result. And you realize that going to that monthly parent association meeting doesn’t make sense.
As Greg McKeown wrote in Essentialism,
Everything changes when we give ourselves permission to be more selective in what we choose to do.
Embrace tiny changes to start
It took a long time for you to get into that daily routine. It is a habit that you created over the course of many months or even years. Get your coffee from the same place, drive the same way to work. Eat a candy bar from the vending machine at 3pm on the dot.
Trying to overhaul the entire day at once is unlikely to stick long term. Unless you decide to up and move to Nepal. But if you plan to keep your same job and same family and live in the same town. You need to start small.
Pick one thing that you’d like to change. It could be removing that parent association meeting from your calendar. It could be that 3pm candy bar. Pick one thing that is not serving you. That does not align with your priorities and values. And change it. Make sure the change sticks. And then try something else.
As James Clear points out in his book Atomic Habits, a 1% improvement over yesterday might not seem like much day to day. But over the course of a year it can be life changing.
Source: James Clear
Stop listening to negative self talk
Sometimes we are trapped in our daily grind because we are too afraid of what will happen if we make a change. Here are some thoughts that might come up:
What will they think of me if I say no?
I don’t know how to do this.
What if I fail?
Change is scary. Even if we want something different and better, our own brains can hold us back. It can tell us to run away. Even a small life change can feel the same as being chased by a tiger.
But the reality is, you know you are not living your most fulfilling life right now. A change could go wrong. But what is the worst that could happen? You will feel exactly the same as you do now. There is always another opportunity to change.
Be proud of small steps
It may feel silly to pat yourself on the back for something small. To celebrate when you’ve swapped out that candy bar for a walk around the block. But the reward is what will help that change stick. Its what will help drive you forward. And get you out of that rut.
From Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit:
Studies of people who have successfully created new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose…a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt free television.
We all have more power than we realize. We aren’t always able to change the circumstances around us. But we can change what we choose, and what we think about ourselves. And we can focus on the things things align with our own priorities. No matter what anyone else thinks.
As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism:
The ability to choose cannot be given or taken away. It can only be forgotten.