Last week I was sitting with my daughter. She felt like she was in a rut. She was wanting to do something different but instead finding herself doing the same things over and over. As we talked about her predicament, the movie “Groundhog Day” showed up in my head.
Groundhog Day is a wonderful fantasy-comedy. It place in the town of Punxsutawney, home to Phil, a legendary rodent who is ceremoniously removed from his burrow February 2nd each year and called on to “forecast” either a long winter or early spring. Phil Connors, the protagonist (the outrageous and gifted Bill Murray) is a jaded and self-absorbed weatherman who is assigned to cover the event however much he despises the whole ordeal. When he wakes up the next day and discovers that he will be reliving Groundhog Day again and again and again. He is caught in an endless time loop. He tries to escape by doing everything from drinking and reckless driving to suicide to no avail. More on the ending in a bit.
Groundhog Day is a metaphor for lots of things. In the land of the matrix we can look at it as metaphor for what we do when we spend our time trying to avoid and escape unwanted thoughts and feelings we can’t control. We don’t want the frustration or pain that we experience and we have an urge to immediately seek relief. Seeking relief is natural and very useful. We take an aspirin to relieve a headache. We complain to others to lessen our feelings of frustration. We put off doing something because we “don’t feel like doing it”. The fun begins when seeking relief takes center stage and you find yourself doing less of what you want and more of what you don’t want. We can get into a loop like Phil where we spend our time avoiding and escaping and then each day feels more like the ones before that.
Everyone experiences their own version of Groundhog Day from time to time. A great place to witness this effect is in schools. Schools are built on routine and the time spent there can be spent moving toward learning and teaching and it can also be spent moving away from the inevitable frustrations of growing and changing. Some combination of both are needed in the long run. When I see students engaging in away loops ( pulling out cellphones in class, asking to go to the nurse, coming in late, complaints of boredom, procrastinating, etc. ), I know they are looking for relief by doing the same thing over and over and expecting something different. If we as educators also go looking for relief we can end up joining them with our own complaints, frustrations, threats and even passive resignation.
So how do you get out of the loop? We can go back to the Phil Connors and look at what he discovered. The first thing Phil began to differently was to notice from his own experience that what he was doing wasn’t working. He was still stuck.
The next thing he noticed was that someone was important to him, namely his TV producer, Rita. He then had to figure out how to move toward relationship. His first attempts were done to move him out his own misery which just increased his misery. Slowly he learned how to make moves because they felt good and they brought him closer to people. It became less about him and more about others. He came up with new moves that brought him closer to the satisfaction of connecting. The misery was still there but became less important and just something he could take with him on the way to who was important to him. Phil’s willingness to do something different while still having his misery is what took him out of the loop.
So we can notice when we are in our own loops of frustration or fear and burrowing more and more into them. That is okay. It is just what humans do. We can also notice who and what is important to us. Doing that gives us a choice. We can keep looping or try something new. Then we can look and see if works to keep us moving toward our important people and things.it