Before 1993, Groundhog Day was all about whether the infamous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, was going to pop out of his burrow and see his shadow or not. But in 1993, Groundhog Day (the movie about a weatherman, played by Bill Murray, who is forced to relive the same day over and over) took on a whole new meaning that can teach us a thing or two about life and work.
Groundhog Day is an extraordinary parable about personal transformation. The journey of the main character, Phil Connors, helps to answer some questions many executives and employees have asked themselves at one time or another: How do I get out of this rut? How do I find meaning and fulfillment in my work? How do I connect with my colleagues? How do I create lasting change?
Organizations spend considerable sums of money trying to change their employees with training, coaching, and change programs. Yet relatively few of these programs succeed in creating lasting change because we are such creatures of habit, and we instinctively struggle with change. We might not literally be trapped in a time loop, like Phil, but we are often trapped in our routines by our conditioning.
For example, we might have a lifetime of defense mechanisms built up for avoiding confrontation, so whatever we learn about assertiveness is futile. Unfortunately, many programs fail because they do not engage people at these deeper levels.
How does Phil Connors change in the movie?
Ironically, Phil breaks free and changes his life by slowing down. By going from fast-forward to slow motion, he starts to see a more accurate image of himself.
When forced to pay close attention to all the effects of his thoughts and actions on himself and on others, he gains greater self-awareness and changes from the inside out.
How can we change in real life?
Like Phil, we begin by paying attention to the consequences of our actions and recognizing the power of the underlying patterns and conditioned responses that determine most of our thoughts and behaviors. This is what keeps us stuck, like the mysterious power of frozen time in the movie.
When we accept that the strategies that used to work for us are no longer working, when we confront and overcome the fears and negative habits that keep us stuck, we begin to free ourselves from “The Groundhog Day Effect” and make genuine, long-lasting change, rather than a temporary fix.
What else can we learn from the movie?
The endless recurrence of February 2nd allows Phil to experiment each day with a new approach to life, and then measure the results. Phil can measure the effect of changing just one variable of his thoughts and behaviors. If all he does is change the way he greets Larry the cameraman, he can measure the results of that single modification. Over time he discovers that his greatest power lies in his ability to choose how he will respond to his predicament.
At work, we also have the choice of how we approach our day. Every day we can walk into the office and press the reset button and start again. We can choose to carry on from yesterday and be angry with our colleagues, or we can press the reset button and listen to their concerns with empathy. We can accept what we can’t change, and focus on what we can. We can choose to learn new skills and techniques, or stay stuck in what worked for us ten years ago, yet now delivers diminishing returns.
The most successful and fulfilled people tend to have a wide range of strategies, tools, perspectives and skills. Like Phil, they focus on changing themselves rather than trying to change other people. They are extremely resourceful and find creative solutions to the challenges they face. Personal transformation takes place when we simply make small adjustments to our daily routine, and see each day as a new opportunity to recreate ourselves.