According to Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog photographed above) there will be 6 more weeks of winter.
At least in the US & Canada which is where Groundhog Day is celebrated.
Tradition has it that if the groundhog emerges from his winter lair on February 2nd and sees his shadow, winter will continue; if there’s not enough sunshine and he doesn’t, we can look forward to an early Spring.
You might remember Phil the Groundhog from his role next to Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. Murray plays a local TV weatherman who can’t stand his annual assignment covering the big groundhog event in Punxsutawney. Worse still, for the remainder of the movie he finds himself repeating the same dreaded day over and over again.
But thanks to the movie, Groundhog Day Syndrome was coined [which is possibly the reason why the US National Film Registry deemed Murray’s comedy as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” but I doubt it …]
The syndrome refers to the odd way in which time seems to pass more quickly the older we get. The reason our perception distorts time like this is because the older we are, the more repetitive our experiences have become … and this familiarity speeds up our sense of time passing. It’s as if our senses are saying, “ya, whatever … been there, done that, move along.”
But when we experience something completely novel our minds are greedy to soak up as much sensory detail as possible and the more we pay attention to our experiences, the slower time goes. A massive & sudden intake of detail is why time goes very slo-mo when we fall from a great height (brilliant podcast over at RadioLab on this phenomenon).
Here’s how Steve Taylor, the author of Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control it, explains Groundhog Day Syndrome:
As a child, the world is an incredibly new place; all your experiences are fresh. Children are taking in new information all the time. As we get older, our perceptions become more automatic, and we have fewer new experiences. At five years old, practically everything is new; by 20, you might travel to a new country, or fall in love for the first time; but, by 50, most experiences are repetitious. As we get older, we establish routines in order to feel happier and more secure; but, paradoxically, the more familiar our life becomes, the quicker time appears to pass, and the more anxious we become about running out of time.
But none of this is inevitable.
There are things we can do to mitigate the effects of Groundhog Day. Here’s 3 that Taylor suggests:
- Change a routine — go on a holiday, take a different route to work, try a new sport … shaking things up stimulates the senses … and this in turn, slows down time (and as a bonus, creates new memories)
- Reclaim nights and weekends — these pass faster than our working weeks for both good and bad reasons. If we spend time on activities that absorb us — reading, hiking, cooking — time flies, but we have the reward of doing something meaningful and pleasurable (and in-the-zone activities are excellent for our our mental health.) But if we spend too many of our evenings and weekends passive and mindless — zoning out by watching TV or surfing the net, then time passes just as fast but without any benefit to us.
- Be Here Now. Much as I hate this expression, mindfulness meditation (which involves taking a few minutes out to simply ‘watch our thoughts’), slows the mental chatter in our brains which in turn brings us to a calmer, more awake state of mind… which, once again, slows time. Just this week, right as the groundhog was getting ready to rise from his bed, my mom was listening to a talk on mindfulness and sent me this link. Skip to the 7th minute to enjoy a simple introduction to a practice which takes no more than minutes to build into your everyday.
And the really great news is that these 3 life lessons are useful not only in the management of time, they’re also perfect techniques for developing our creativity and for battling off depression (which many of us now face given Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of several more weeks of winter).
And so it was that this week’s life lessons were brought to us by a little, furry groundhog. Till next Friday …