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What We Can Learn From Bill Murray

I’ve previously referred to the monotony of the days over the past 11 months as very much like Bill Murray’s experience in the movie Groundhog Day, so when the actual day arrived this week, I was a little stunned to realize that just like last February, a new and little understood virus, this time a variant of COVID-19, is spreading fast, and Trump is being impeached, again. Definitely feels like Groundhog Day.

It occurred to me that Bill Murray suffers quite a bit in the movie because for quite a while, he doesn’t recognize that he needs to change in order to escape his conditions. How long was he stuck? Harold Ramis, the director of the movie, originally thought Murray’s character had been stuck in Punxsutawney for ten years, but in 2009, said that he had definitely underestimated his plight. Ramis said that “it takes at least 10 years to get good at anything and allotting for the down time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years.

Yikes! I don’t know about you, but one year of being stuck in this repetitive state is enough for me. So, what to do? I keep a collection of quotes to refer to for both my writing and for my own motivation when needed, and I find it striking that on one day, a quote will really resonate for me and the next, I’ll wonder why I saved it. I came across one this week that definitely resonated. The American actor, singer, dancer and philanthropist, Danny Kaye said, “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.”

Focusing on the past year and pretty much repeating our behaviors and actions day after day is definitely Bill Murray in his early years in Pennsylvania and perhaps we’re repeating his mistake – not recognizing that this is an opportunity to learn and grow. If it takes ten years to get really good at something, why not use this time to get started? Instead of looking at the last eleven months as 337 groundhog days, why not make the conscious decision, starting today, to use the next six months to a year that we’ll still be living under restrictions, to learn, experiment and grow?

Many of us have made attempts to do this over the past year, from gardening to bread making, to changing careers to starting businesses. And many of us have been too overwhelmed by circumstances to do much more than try to survive until this whole mess is over. There’s no judgment of course, either way, but we can’t thrive if we don’t put in the effort, so maybe it’s time to end the groundhog cycle and start developing an actionable plan to move forward, learn new ideas and concepts, and contribute to ending this phase of living in exile.

There are those who appear to be actively slowing down progress for all of us. This is the group I have the hardest time with because it’s difficult not to judge and because I simply don’t understand the goal. Just yesterday, a man entered a Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle House in Pasadena, without a mask. The waitress informed him she couldn’t serve him unless he put a mask on. He went back out to his car, returned with a gun and demanded his chicken and waffles. This guy is probably going to jail soon, as not only was this considered a hold-up, but he seemed oblivious to the security cameras in the restaurant, which caught his full face on video. And, since he wasn’t wearing a mask, it will be quite easy to identify him from the tape. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the waitress was certainly quite traumatized by having a gun pointed at her face.

Last week here in L.A., a group of protesters actually blocked people from receiving their vaccines. California is having a very challenging time getting vaccines out to begin with, so to shut down a mega-site like Dodger Stadium because protesters were either radical anti-vaxxers, or trying to save the people in line from becoming what they call "sheeples" really caused me some upset.

I’m all for free speech and for people’s right to choose their own health paths. But I have a very hard time when they interfere with other people’s right to make their own choices. And since we’re still trying to vaccinate the elderly here, I think it’s cruel to add to these folks’ stress by shouting at them in their cars, blocking their ability to drive forward and accusing them of being stupid or ill-informed, causing more doubt about the vaccines and yet more hostility in general. Again, I just don’t understand it. I don’t get the anti-masker hysteria, the craziest conspiracy theories I think I’ve ever heard or how people proclaiming the most important thing in the world is our freedom, when in fact, they are interfering with people’s freedom.

While I’m definitely frustrated over these incidents because they’re genuinely causing many people harm, from not being able to keep their businesses open to literally spreading the virus and making others sick, I do try to focus on the fact that this is all about fear and people who don’t know how to resolve whatever their needs are. I also recognize that being angry with them solves nothing, other than perhaps to cause them to feel more fearful which isn’t going to help the situation. Maybe they, too, can consider making changes at this point to get out of their own groundhog days of anger, fear and lashing out. I think we could all consider what we might be able to do to support them in that shift, although I realize that’s a very tall order.

Perhaps we could start with Danny Kaye’s advice. If we stopped carrying the past into this moment, disruptive behaviors wouldn’t feel as big, resentment could be lessened and we could focus on what we can do today, just for the circumstances of today. That’s hard to do, I know, but we have to start somewhere, right? And, if we just looked at today, would it feel as fatiguing to us as looking at the entire past year? How much of the heaviness that many of us are feeling is because we’re accumulating all of the yesterdays since the pandemic started instead of simply focusing on now.

And that leads me back to an actionable plan. We have lots of opportunities right now, from doing the inner work we need to do in order to be more empathetic to those we disagree with to being more conscious of our impact on others to designing the kind of life we want to live going forward. We can’t change everything at once, so the goal of an actionable plan is to hone in on what’s most important right now. It’s not difficult. Paper and pencil in hand, simply start making lists by categories. How’s your career going, or do you need a new one now because the pandemic ended your old one? How’s your physical health? How’s your love life? What about other relationships? What interests you? What sparks joy in your day? How are your finances? How’s your mental health? What fascinates you?

What do you do with this mess of lists? For any answer that wasn’t at least good all the way up to fantastic, those are areas for growth and they need to be prioritized. This may seem overwhelming but I’ll give you some clues. First, if you’ve lost your career or business, that has to be a top priority because you obviously can’t focus on anything else if you’re under threat of becoming homeless or going hungry. You may temporarily have to take a job that doesn’t fascinate you or bring you joy, but you can keep working on your plan to get there.

As for the rest, the key to success is increasing your emotional intelligence or EI. Studies indicate that 80% of our success comes from having a higher EI, not IQ. So that’s the inner work that frankly never ends, but that we can quickly begin to boost by consciously focusing on it. EI includes mindfulness because without self-awareness, we frequently self-sabotage and can mindlessly sabotage others. EI also includes our relationships, our empathy for others and accepting ourselves, so it’s a really good place to start an action plan. We can certainly work on our EI while working on the next priority simultaneously, so as you review your lists, which area feels most important to you? Write down what you want that area to look like. Picture it in your mind. Then choose one thing each day you can do to work towards that end. It doesn’t matter if it’s starting your own business or speaking fluent Spanish or becoming a millionaire. What’s critical is to stay focused. Take actions each day that move you toward your goal, even if it feels like a tiny bit.

Start your day with a meditation and then think about or write down how grateful you are for having the opportunity to make this goal happen. Set an intention to take at least one action step toward your goal. Set another intention to learn something new each day related to your goal or that boosts your feelings of joy.

Let’s break out of the Groundhog Day syndrome and do something different right now. Something that will contribute to our success in life or will support someone else. When fear arises, just breathe. Pause long enough to think about what you’re doing, how you’re feeling and where you really want to go.

I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating. The pandemic and various shutdowns will end and our condition when that happens is up to us. Do we want to be ready for the new opportunities that will arise at that point, healthy and happy, or do we want to get there exhausted, frustrated and ill-prepared? Regardless of our choices over the past 11 months, we can choose to change, right here and now. It took Bill Murray’s character more than 30 years, but we don’t have to wait that long. Why not choose to be happier, healthier, more joyful and more compassionate now? I can’t think of a good reason not to. Can you?

Until next time. Have a wonderful week.

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