In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, misanthropic meteorologist Phil Connors relives the same 24 hours, over and over and over again…for years on end.
Given nearly infinite “do-overs,” Phil learns to speak French, play jazz piano, and flip cards into an upturned hat. Most important: he discovers the good in other people, and he learns to care about them. In return, they love him back.
There’s a lesson in Groundhog Day for all of us: Trying to do something over and over again, with intention and focus and feedback on what we could do better next time, is how you improve—at anything.
Whereas repetition plus reward leads to automatic, effortless habits, repetition plus goals for improvement plus feedback generates a different benefit: ever-improving expertise. If you do your homework in the same place and at the same time, day after day, studying will become a habit. If you also look for ways to improve your efficiency, and monitor how your new techniques are or aren’t working, you’ll also get better at studying.
To me, grit is not just heroic courage in the face of setbacks. Grit also means getting out of bed, one day after the next, and coming back to your work, and trying once more to do what you did so many times before—this time just a little bit better.
Like habits, skills don’t come easily. One of the oldest studies in psychology documents the learning curves of telegraph operators sending and receiving Morse code. Like Phil Connors, the very best operators worked daily to improve. “It requires ten years,” concluded the study’s authors, “to make a thoroughly seasoned press despatcher [sic].”
From a practice standpoint, the movie Groundhog Day represents an unattainable ideal. You don’t often get the chance to practice under the exact same circumstances, over and over and over again. But like all ideals, the parable of Phil Connors gives you a sense of what you’re aiming for.
Don’t assume that repetition is only good for building habits.
Do practice a skill you’re trying to improve not just once or twice but, like Phil Connors, hundreds or even thousands of times. You may discover that mundanity is magic after all.
With grit and gratitude,