By: Maura L. Johnson, LCSW, PMH-C
Every February 2, the rural town of Punxsutawney, Pa., becomes a place of national focus and local celebration. Having grown up in nearby DuBois, Pa., making the trip to Gobbler’s Knob during those cold morning hours was often considered a rite of passage. As everyone awaits Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions, hoping he will forecast a speedy end to winter, it’s kind of fun to lean into the superstition of it all. Punxsutawney (or Punxsy, as we often call it) eventually drew the attention of Hollywood with the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as Phil and Andie McDowell as Rita.
Those familiar with the film will recall Phil being stuck in a time loop that has him reliving February 2 day after day, becoming increasingly frustrated and desperate to move forward. In the therapy setting, I often encounter patients who compare their current circumstances to this iconic film, longing for the changes that will propel them forward. Through listening to their circumstances and ongoing struggles, we work together to identify opportunities for change. It’s not uncommon for someone to genuinely believe they are stuck, with little to no way out of their current circumstances. It’s okay to start with small goals, even very small, daily goals, to remove yourself from your own personal “time loop.”
So, what are some strategies for becoming “unstuck”? The first may seem obvious, but it’s incredibly important: recognize that you are stuck and that you actively want to make a change. Take inventory of what is occurring in your life that is contributing to these feelings. This could include a stressful daily commute, an unfulfilling career, remote work that feels isolating, lack of socialization with friends and family or just generally feeling like you do the same thing every day and are unfulfilled. Next, make the choice and commitment to change. Motivational Interviewing is a common and effective tool many therapists and coaches utilize with clients to elicit readiness, as well as strategies to start implementing it. It’s important to make change goals reasonable and attainable, such as adding one new activity per week, one social outing or incorporating one workout per week as a start. Travel is also an effective way to shake things up, and it doesn’t need to be elaborate. Even periodic day trips, weekends, and staycations with new places in your own town or city can help to shift your mindset.
Perhaps it’s your job or career that is the most significant contributor to your personal Groundhog Day. Evaluating what is within your control to change at your current job (can it be hybrid remote, changing schedule, new projects, etc.) and taking action to explore these can be helpful. If you find you are genuinely unhappy in your current job/career, consider evaluating what steps you would like to take to change this. Even casually searching/applying for jobs while you remain employed can aid in feeling more empowered and in control of your circumstances. Assess and reflect on your career values and goals and consider how they may shape your decisions going forward.
However you may find yourself feeling stuck, please know that change and happiness are possible. Starting with the smallest, most attainable items can help build momentum for making lasting, meaningful changes.