February 02, 2009

The Groundhog Day Effect

The movie Groundhog Day depicts a man forced to live the same day over and over again. Life seems like that sometimes, when today does not seem much like a new day, just the day after yesterday. The feeling that every day is just another version of the same thing is what I call the Groundhog Day effect. It’s a problem because when you start to expect more of the same, it becomes hard to find or create anything new.

In reality, every day is different, with different actions and different situations. You cannot escape the Groundhog Day effect by trying very hard to do something different, because you’re already doing something new and different every day. It just doesn’t feel like it. The way to escape the Groundhog Day effect is to put more of your energy into the things that make every day different.

That sounds easier than it is. To make it work, you have to become aware of the things that make every day the same. These are not the areas of action in your life, but the areas of inaction. That dull gray feeling that makes every day the same is the feeling of suspense as you wait for yourself to finally take action on a whole list of things.

These are all the things that make you say “someday”: “Someday I’ll get a new job,” “Someday I want to go to Hawaii,” and so on. It’s good to have ideas about what you might do in the future, but if you have too many of them and put too much of your energy and attention on them, you can completely lose track of the way life is going on before your eyes. You might even resent your current circumstances, like the character in Groundhog Day, and imagine that your life won’t really start until your circumstances improve.

The answer is not to wait for your life to get better. It didn’t work in the movie and it doesn’t work in real life either. Life changes when you change, and to make sure you’re really changing and not just kidding yourself, you need to start by making material changes that you can observe and verify.

That’s why Fear of Nothing starts with your material possessions. You probably actually use less than 10 percent of your possessions — the others just hang around day after day, making you say “someday” all the time. They have so little to do with your day to day life that you forget they are there. You stop seeing them. You might have to take photographs of your rooms to realize how much stuff they hold. Yet even if you look right at your possessions and don’t see them, they still make your life the same from one day to the next. By taking away the possessions you are least likely to use, you make your life a little more active, a little less stale. Do a little of this every day, and you can change your life day by day in a way that quickly adds up to the kind of profound change that affects everything you do.

Don’t wait for your life to turn into something more interesting. When you take the attitude that it’s up to you to make it happen, you become more alert to opportunities to do that. You will be surprised at how much difference you can make and how quickly you can change your circumstances. Take that approach for just one day, and the next day can’t just be a repeat of that. A repeat of what? Repeat the pattern of action and change, and life becomes an adventure in which you can’t predict what will come your way next.

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