Happy Groundhog Day!!! It took me years before I watched the 1993 film, Groundhog Day, all the way through. It was worth it when I finally did. It is certainly comical at times in true Murray fashion. It is also serious with some deep lessons to be learned. While the opportunity to take a mulligan is something we would all like to have every now and again, reliving the same day over and over is draining, which begs the question: Are you stuck on repeat?
Ever feel like Bill Murray does in this movie? Feeling like each day is a carbon copy of the last and you are going down a road of boredom and unfulfillment. Does it seem like no matter what you do nothing changes? Whether you can relate to this as an individual, family, parent, or as a couple, you are not alone.
As humans, we are creatures of habit. Who doesn’t park in the same general parking space at work, at the grocery store, or even at church. Now, habit and routine is not all bad. When you leave work you know where your car is. Think about those days when you pull in or come back from lunch and your spot was taken. You may have huffed when you realized you had to park over a couple rows or even up another level. How about that one day when you left work and you freaked out because all of a sudden you thought your car was stolen because you couldn’t find it! No need to raise your hand, you know who you are. (Can I put my arm down now?) How about your morning routine of getting ready in which you shuffle through a myriad of small tasks, sometimes catching yourself in the middle wondering “Did I brush my teeth?” or "Did I put on deodorant?" Routine and habit creates a sort of symphony or harmony to our movements. We develop efficiencies, and lets face it, in a world where "time is money" and the mantra is “Go, go, go”, time is precious! Additionally, habits can help us grow our self-discipline. So you may be asking yourself at this point, where is the downside to all this?
Let's go back to this concept of being stuck on repeat when it comes to our personal (or professional) lives. Part of this is understanding how we work. Doing a lot of Cognitive Behavior Therapy work, one of the first things I discuss with clients is the Cognitive Triangle, which looks at the interaction of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
As you can see from the image, each piece of the triangle impacts the others. Do something enough and it becomes a pattern, aka. a habit. So again, what’s the issue? Well, each of us works within this general framework and so our triangles intersection one another. As such, my behaviors influence your thoughts and subsequent feelings and actions, and vice versa. If you see a particular behavior enough before I even do it you can come to expect it. Think about for a moment of Ivan Pavlov’s work in the 1890s, and the salivating dog. That work was followed by a Behaviorism movement in the 1910s. Should you choose not to read those articles, in short know this, we become conditioned to expect certain responses. Now reflect on your significant other, parent, sibling, co-worker when you want to ask them for there input on something. You may begin to second guess that action because you think, “Well the last couple times I’ve asked them they have been judgmental.” And perhaps they are. So what do you do, you don't ask them. Do that enough and a gap is created and communication begins to suffer. Communication begins to suffer and so does the relationship. The same idea applies to parents and children or siblings and the like within various context. So what is something you can do to begin getting unstuck?
There are a couple questions I ask all my client's regularly and they are "What are you noticing?" and "What are you hearing?" Perhaps this is my personal version of the "How does that make you feel?" therapist card. That said, it is very intentional and with benefit. It is about increasing mindfulness and awareness. It is all about slowing down your own thoughts, feelings, and actions and picking up on the intersection points within our cognitive triangle and that of others in order to identify the pitfalls or gaps. Start to ask yourselves these questions, BUT don't just stop there. There are more layers of the onion to go. It isn't enough to simply say, "I'm noticing I'm getting ticked off", we all get ticked off. Next ask yourself, "What is upsetting me so much about this situation?" Then ask, "How do I typically respond when this happens?". Follow that up with, "How is this response working for me?" If you come to find out that your go to response of letting it go (which if you are honest, you realize you never really do) or blowing-up isn't actually working, the next question you may be asking yourself is "Am I part of the problem?" If you answer yes to that, may I suggest just one more question for yourself..."What do I want to do about it?"
As you start to ask yourself those first couple questions and continue to probe deeper, you will begin to draw out the patterns. A heightened awareness is the first step to keep from repeating the same things over and over. The earlier that you begin to identify the patterns the sooner you will begin to "mind the gap."