Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

Lessons of Transformation in Groundhog Day

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago I was contacted about a personal growth book based on the movie “Groundhog Day”. Although I was a bit skeptical of a book based on a movie, “Groundhog Day” is a great movie and the author was kind enough to send me a free copy.

I’m still working my way through it, but so far I find the message of personal transformation compelling. In this guest post, author Paul Hannam explains the message of Groundhog Day that inspired his book.

I have read hundreds of books and attended dozens of training events where I am told the same message about personal transformation – you have to change the way you see the world, not try to change the world itself.

This has been the mantra from Buddha all the way to self-help books like The Secret and The 7 Habits. It is supported by research from positive psychology and by a wealth of biographies and personal anecdotes. I completely agree with this message. Indeed I have trained several thousand people on this core idea, both as a management consultant and as a lecturer at Oxford University. Moreover, I believe the best illustration and dramatization of this truth is found in the movie Groundhog Day.

This one movie contains everything you need to know about positive thinking, personal growth and happiness. And it’s very funny too. So on the 15th anniversary of its release, and in the spirit of the Groundhog Day ceremony on February 2, I would like to show how you can leave winter behind and discover the joys of spring!

In the movie, the main character, Phil Connors is trapped in a recurring day — a freezing February day in Punxsutawney. The town never changes; the events and the people never change. Only Phil can change.

It is impossible for Phil to have any control over the external world. Every morning he wakes up and it’s the same day again. He is compelled to find how best to survive and prosper, and decide if this is a curse or maybe a blessing.

Through the brilliance of this plot we can observe Phil as he deals with his unique predicament. We can see how he struggles to find meaning and purpose in his life. Each day he experiments with new thoughts and behaviors and he learns what works and what does not work. Any change that occurs must be inside of him because only he can change – all the other characters repeat exactly what they did the day before.

This shines an intense light on Phil’s ability to change himself. As he struggles through all his flawed strategies based on selfishness, manipulation and instant gratification we learn how empty they really are. Over countless days he learns that what pleasures he thought would make him happy have failed to, and he has to accept that his old self has completely run out of steam.

He is forced to place all his attention on changing the way he interprets the world, on his personal reality, as his external reality is fixed. Once he accepts he is truly stuck, possibly forever, he has nowhere else to go and begins to rebuild his personal reality by changing his attitudes, values, thoughts and feelings. He literally recreates himself by focusing all his attention on inner change, on becoming a more mature, loving and giving person.

He transforms his thoughts and this transforms every part of his life. His journey proves that inner change is the key to our personal growth and happiness better than any other example I can think of. Phil literally transforms the worst day of his life into his best day, and the only thing that changes is his thinking and his actions.

The genius of the time loop means that there are no other variables that could be responsible for the change – the only changes in the town occur because he has changed. What greater lesson in personal transformation is there?

Written by Paul Hannam, author of The Magic of Groundhog Day – Transform your Life Day by Day.

Paul taught at Oxford University and over the last 15 years trained thousands of people in the business and non-profit sector, including courses on Leadership, Sales, Change and Personal Development.

He is also co-founder and President of Bright Green Talent an environmental search firm; Chairman and co-owner of Greenest Host , a web hosting solution that is 100% solar-powered; and co-founder and partner of Enso Ventures a venture fund and incubator for green businesses.