Don’t Try Too Hard

One of my favourite movies is Groundhog day. It’s the story of a weather man from a TV station who visits Punxsutawney PA to cover the Groundhog Festival. Every year, Phil the Groundhog comes out of his burrow to investigate and if he sees a shadow, then the season of spring will be late; conversely, no shadow means an early spring.

In the film, the weather man, also named Phil, finds himself trapped in a seemingly endless loop of time condemned to relive the same day (Groundhog Day) over and over again. He meets the same people and takes part in the same events, but the outcome of each day is different as he interacts with the reality that unfolds.

It is a lovely analysis of the interaction of cause and effect. All of the stimuli are the same each day, but Phil reacts to them differently each time, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of anger. But each day is different. Even the iterations of events that he wants to be the same don’t always end up being the same. It nicely illustrates just how much control we don’t have over events.

When Phil gets over his initial anger and frustration at the situation, he begins to have fun with the people around him, realising that with foreknowledge, there are many things he can accomplish. But one thing he can’t seem to manage is to win the affection of the girl he eventually falls in love with. It doesn’t matter what he tries, he just can’t seem to win her over.

But finally, when he tires of trying to control reality and begins to accept his situation, things begin to change. When he starts to focus on helping people, his character slowly changes and he becomes a different person. Eventually, he becomes the person that the girl wants to get to know and, having won her heart, the time-spell is finally broken and he escapes into normality.

The movie provides a nice life lesson because it teaches that when we strive too hard for the things we really want, we can end up unconsciously pushing them away from us. Sometimes, what is necessary in order for us to get what we want is to take a more accepting approach to what happens in our life. Somewhat counter-intuitively, it turns out that you can often get the girl (or boy) by actually letting her (or him) go. The closer you try to hold on to her (or him), the less attractive you become.

But this lesson is not just about relationships. You can see the same truth borne out in many ways. When people try too hard to make money on the internet, for example, they unconsciously push away their subscribers who perceive them as unattractive, but when they serve their subscriber’s needs, forgetting about their own, then things can begin to dramatically change.

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