First, some bad news: most people will already have given up their New Year’s resolutions and fallen back into their old ways by now. If that’s not you, give yourself a smug pat on the back.
For the rest of us, if the prospect of another 11 months in the same tedious set of daily routines fills you with dread, you need a new book based on the classic comedy, Groundhog Day.
The 1993 film about a TV weatherman (played by Bill Murray) stuck in one endlessly repeating day has become a modern phenomenon, with many doctors admitting to prescribing the DVD rather than pills to their depressed patients.
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Most people have already given up their new year’s resolutions. If a year filled with the same boring routines fills you with dread, try these techniques that promise to break out of life’s negative cycle
There’s something about the way Murray’s character Phil Connors battles with the tedium of living the same 24 hours over and over again, finally escaping through kindness, selflessness and learning to live each moment to the full, which many people find deeply inspiring.
Now an exciting new book by Paul Hannam, a British personal development expert and former Oxford University lecturer, claims to harness the power of what the author calls the ‘Groundhog Day Condition’ to guide people out of the work-sleep-work rut and change their lives for the better.
Hannam says so many of us wake up to the same old pattern, day after day, living in a continuous state of fretting. Here, he explains how you can break out of your Groundhog Day rut once and for all.
CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY
Most of us take life for granted. We live in rigidly structured routines, working endlessly towards some ever-changing future goal (perhaps a weekend place in the Cotswolds, an Audi, a three-week summer holiday, a cosy retirement . . .)
But does this really make us happy?
Most of us end up secretly dissatisfied and envious of our friends’ holidays, houses, cars and lifestyles, which makes it very hard to be content.
So try an experiment: make happiness your top priority and commit to choosing happiness over wealth, power, status, approval, control and security.
Ditch those grand plans and make small, incremental changes instead, with one aim: to improve the quality of your life, one minute at a time. So instead of setting goals for next year or even for next week, consider setting a goal for the next minute, and make that goal to be happy right now.
If you can find a way to be just as happy in heavy traffic on a damp Monday morning as you are with your friends in the pub on a Friday evening, you will open the door to enjoying every moment of your life.
Paul Hannam recommends techniques such as writing lists of simple pleasures and stopping worrying
BIN YOUR BUCKET LIST
To be happy now and for the rest of your life, you need to remove the classic blocks. You know the ones: ‘I will be happy when I get that pay rise. . . when I’ve got a washboard stomach . . . when I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.’
The best way is to write a list of simple pleasures that make you happy and cost little or nothing: a deep bubble bath; a tight hug; crawling under a fluffy duvet at the end of a long day; completing a difficult crossword; the smell of fresh coffee or woodsmoke; a great book; watering the plants on a summer’s evening…
This simple exercise illustrates that a perfect life could already be well within your grasp. It shows that perhaps you don’t need more possessions, money or power as much as you need a little more awareness.
Why worry about earning the money to pay for exotic holidays when, for no cost at all, you can boost the quality of your non-holiday moments right here, right now?
So ditch that bucket list and shift your focus from seeking new experiences to improving the quality of your life. There’s so much pleasure and enjoyment right in front of you – perhaps you don’t need to be anywhere else.
WHAT ARE YOUR CORE VALUES?
It can be life-changing to stop thinking about what you want and start thinking about what you stand for, so take a moment to consider – what’s really important to you?
Think about the values you can commit to and are prepared to uphold in terms of your lifestyle, career and actions.
What do you really stand for? What do you hold dear, and to what extent do you live by your values? Which do you consider to be non-negotiable?
Circle the values on the right that resonate most and make you properly happy. You don’t have to try to be saintly here. Just choose one or two that work for you, and that you can apply to future decisions and behaviours.
Choosing Love, for instance, might help you think twice about a job that takes you away from family and home; choose Simplicity and you might consider downsizing and buying a smaller home (or car).
Having a set of coherent values to follow will give you strength and a clear direction, as well as adding purpose to your actions.
MAKE EVERY DAY AMAZING
There’s absolutely no need to move to Mustique, win the lottery, become a celebrity or acquire a Chloe handbag if you can learn to turn up the volume on an ordinary day at home.
Spend a few minutes answering these questions and consider carefully what you write:
1. What would you do today if you had only a few months to live?
2. How would you live if you committed to being happy above everything else?
3. How would you spend your time if you shifted your focus from wanting more to appreciating what you already have?
4. What would you do today if you wanted it to be a perfect day?
5. What would somebody else, with the same resources, do differently if they were living your life today?
Now analyse your answers. Is there a yawning chasm between your normal day and the perfect day of your dreams?
His book uses the classic film Groundhog Day to address the tedium of life’s problems
Yes, we all have to earn a living, the kids have to go to school and compromises inevitably have to be made, but just stop a moment and consider – is there one small change you can make today (and every day) that will take you a step closer to your perfect day?
This isn’t about booking a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant or putting a moratorium on the ironing – it’s about feeling happy and engaged, to love and be loved, to savour each second and notice each exceptional detail of your precious life.
SMELL THE COFFEE
So many of us are stuck on autopilot, rushing around endlessly between tasks but hankering after quality time – those ring-fenced minutes you spend with the family, on holiday or in front of the TV.
But quality time is not determined by the people you are with, the job you hold or an idyllic holiday destination, and you really don’t have to wait for perfect conditions. It can be found now, through mindfulness.
Studies have shown mindfulness promotes physical and mental wellbeing, lowers stress and blood pressure, reduces anxiety and depression and even gives the immune system a boost. It helps you think more clearly, too.
But above all, mindfulness allows you to be more engaged with the present moment, freeing you to choose your thoughts and feelings, giving you space to let go of the fears and troubles that are keeping you in a Groundhog-Day rut.
Try this exercise: shut your eyes and focus on your breathing, counting to five as you breathe in, holding your breath for five and five again as you breathe out. Notice any thoughts and let them go. Do this for 30 seconds. Then a minute. Then two minutes.
Simple mindfulness exercises like this allow you to step out of the stream of relentless thinking and endless multi-tasking for just a few minutes. You can do it anywhere and any time – no need to be at a spa or meditation retreat.
You really can bring a relaxed holiday mood into your life by merely walking and talking more slowly
Practise mindfulness breathing exercises, or just work on remembering to slow down and live in the moment. Take your time to savour everything you do.
You really can bring a relaxed holiday mood into your life by merely walking and talking more slowly, properly listening to a friend or your children, watching a sunset and being attentive to the small pleasures it’s so easy to ignore or overlook.
WAKE UP HAPPY
No matter what’s happening in your life, every morning you face a choice: to be happy or grumpy; to focus on the opportunities or the difficulties; to set out to learn and grow or stagnate and fester.
The direction you take when your alarm goes off will affect your mood for the rest of the day. You can create a terrible day, a mundane day, a good day or a great day. It is up to you. The events and encounters that take place may remain the same, but you can change the way you experience them.
At the end of each day, think about what you learned. What worked and what didn’t? What will you do differently tomorrow?
STOP BEING A GRUMP
It’s not easy if you’re stuck in grouch mode, it’s pouring with rain, the bills are coming in and your wi-fi is down, but even the most pessimistic can find something to be thankful for, and studies show it’s very good to be grateful.
Scientists at the University of California are building on research that shows that people who practise gratitude regularly:
- Have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Have generally higher levels of positive emotions
- Have more joy and optimism
- Tend to display more compassion
- Feel less lonely and isolated.
Try keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, writing down three specific things to be grateful for every day. How much did you enjoy that first sip of coffee? Did a friend send a sweet text, or did a funny online video made you smile?
Every time you jot down something good, you build appreciation, shift your attention to what you have and away from what you don’t have.
Counting your blessings like this is the best way to remind yourself that you are probably already pretty content.
Adapted by Louise Atkinson from The Wisdom Of Groundhog Day: How To Improve Your Life One Day At A Time, by Paul Hannam, published by Yellow Kite at £14.99. © Paul Hannam 2016. To order a copy for £11.99 (offer valid to February 1, 2016), please call 0808 272 0808 or visit mailbookshop.co.uk. P&P is free on orders over £12.