February 2nd is Groundhog Day. Have you watched the classic comedy from 1993? If so, you’ll remember the cynical, sarcastic news reporter Phil Connors being dispatched to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Once there, he scoffs at the pointlessness of the smalltown annual festival where the happy locals use a groundhog to predict the weather for the next six weeks. Phil hates everything about it. Unfortunately, his day gets worse when he is trapped in the town by an unexpected blizzard. He then wakes next morning to discover he is now (inexplicably) locked in a time loop. Every day, from this day forward, is exactly the same for Phil Connors.
Groundhog day in the NHS
The film was a big hit. So much so, that we now say, “It’s Groundhog Day again!” when the same situation repeats itself over and over again.
I regularly hear doctors on our courses using the phrase in relation to numerous aspects of their working life. Take your pick from the following: disorganisation; wasted resources; bad behaviour of colleagues; the struggle with difficult patient behaviour; the need to prepare for another appraisal. Or how about finding yourself teaching the same thing in the same way to another group of uninspired doctors for the countless time. You may well want to add your personal gripe to that list.
I remember being amused when one doctor introduced a bit of variation to the “Groundhog Day” phrase by saying, “It’s like deja-vu all over again.” (I’m not convinced that he said it as a joke!)
Sadly, many who find themselves trapped in the seemingly hopeless loop struggle to see any humour in their situation. When this is the case, they risk becoming cold, hard, cynical and/or sarcastic. Just like Phil Collins at the start of the movie.
Breaking the loop
However, the original Groundhog Day celebrations have absolutely nothing to do with hopeless repetition. It’s roots are in ancient European traditions which are celebrations of awakening. The appearance of the Punxsutawney Phil means the end of hibernation. It’s the earliest indication that spring is approaching. And spring is nature’s time for new beginnings and fresh starts.
In the movie, Phil Connors initially indulges in some of the very worst aspects of human behaviour. If anything, he becomes even more bitter than before. Then he slowly begins to do some little things that make a difference. As he starts to look at his world differently he dedicates time and effort to improving his abilities. His new skills enable him to bring about some dramatic changes to the world around him. He finds himself contributing more than he ever thought possible – and he’s much happier for it. So are those who are around him.
What efforts are you making to develop the skills that will enable you to break out of your own version of Groundhog Day?
Stephen McGuire – Managing Director