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Groundhog Day or The Eternal Recurrence: A Possible Decision-Making Aid for Your Life


«We live in a system where you must either be a cog

or get crushed by the wheels

Friedrich Nietzsche


Und täglich grüsst das Murmeltier – eine mögliche Entscheidungshilfe für dein Leben

Your life is the sum of all your decisions. Sometimes you make better decisions, sometimes worse and sometimes you make no decision at all – which is also a decision. Because, whether we like it or not, life forces us to make decisions. Decisions are part of the programme, part of the simulation, part of fate. They are part of the game, that we all have to play.



Understanding life as a game


Regardless of your philosophy of life, we all – consciously or unconsciously – rely on a system of assumptions, beliefs and convictions to give our lives and our decisions meaning and a frame of reference.


And if anyone at this point is of the opinion that life has no inherent meaning, they may be right or wrong, but regardless of this, the «perspective of meaninglessness» is just another way of giving life meaning. Because meaninglessness also represents a certain perspective on life and therefore influences the way you interpret and organise your life and make your decisions.


It's like the character Bagger Vance, in the film adaptation of Steven Pressfield's novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, said: «Life's a game that can't be won, only played.»


And that also includes all those who see no point in this game.


The story of Bagger Vance is a reference to Krishna from the Bhagavad-Gita. The Bhagavad-Gita teaches that life and its challenges are part of a larger cosmic game in which our actions are a central theme. In the Gita, Krishna encourages the hero Arjuna to fulfil his duty without clinging to the results of his actions. The character Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who acts as a spiritual guide for the golfer Rannulph Junah (Matt Damon), is also part of this tradition. Similar to Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita, Bagger Vance guides Junah through personal and golf playing crises by teaching him to act in harmony with his inner self and let go of the results of his actions – a principle that is deeply rooted in the Bhagavad-Gita.


This teaching reflects the idea that life is a game that cannot be won, only played. It is a call to experience life actively and with full commitment, but not to be dominated by the pursuit of success or the fear of failure. Every task should be approached with passion and dedication, without worrying too much about how things will turn out in the end.


Und täglich grüsst das Murmeltier – eine mögliche Entscheidungshilfe für dein Leben

However, such a philosophy presupposes a certain trust in a higher order or the divine. It is based on the realisation and acceptance that the universe and the divine operate according to principles that go beyond immediate human understanding.


For some, this can be an inspiring approach and interpretation for life, but for others, it's smoke from too many incense sticks.


And since we will never agree on such topics, let's at least agree that life is a game that we can only play, not win.



The eternal recurrence or Groundhog Day


But how can we make good decisions in a game that we can't win?


Und täglich grüsst das Murmeltier – eine mögliche Entscheidungshilfe für dein Leben

The idea that life is a game that you can only play without winning, has a very strong resonance with Nietzsche's philosophy of eternal recurrence – albeit in a slightly different way.


Nietzsche was thinking about the infinity of time and the limited number of events that can happen in the world. He imagined a world in which – if enough time passed – every possible combination of events would occur again and again. This idea led him to the radical notion that our lives could repeat themselves infinitely, exactly as they are. For him, this was not just a physical or metaphysical concept, but also a profound personal challenge: he wondered, how we would live our lives, if we had to live them over and over again.


The idea of repeating your life an infinite number of times sounds very sobering at first – perhaps even like a nightmare for some. Anyone who has seen the legendary classic film starring Bill Murray «Groundhog Day» got a small taste of this.


Und täglich grüsst das Murmeltier – eine mögliche Entscheidungshilfe für dein Leben

But if you take Nietzsche's idea seriously, it makes perfect sense as a method for making decisions.


For Nietzsche, the idea of eternal recurrence served as a yardstick for life. Precisely because the thought of an eternal repetition of the same is off-putting, he challenges us to live in such a way that we could affirm the thought of an infinite repetition of our lives.


In other words: Nietzsche wanted us to organise our lives in such a way that we would be happy to repeat them an infinite number of times, which consequently encourages us to do our best to live a life we can be proud of.


In theory, this sounds interesting at first. But what should it look like in practice?



The eternal recurrence as a decision-making aid in the preview


This idea may already be far too abstract for some people, which is why some readers may have already left at this point. For others, however, it can certainly lead to more clarity as a decision-making aid.


Imagine, for example, that you are faced with the decision to quit your secure but unfulfilling job in order to pursue your passion for art. If you apply Nietzsche's principle of eternal recurrence as a decision-making aid, ask yourself: Would I want this decision and its associated consequences to recur endlessly in my life? If the thought of courageously following your passion and living an authentic, albeit uncertain life, gives you a sense of satisfaction and pride, then that would be a strong argument for choosing this path.


Nietzsche's approach asks you to make choices that give your life meaning and joy, so that if you were hypothetically faced with the possibility of living your life over and over again, you would do so with enthusiasm.



The eternal recurrence as a decision-making aid in retrospect (only for advanced users!)


Now we can take this approach one step further and immerse ourselves in even deeper reflection. Because, while we were previously looking forwards, we are now doing the opposite: We look backwards.


(Disclaimer: Mindfuck Alert!)


Assuming that your life is an infinite repetition of the same one, the logical consequence of this is, that the decision you have to make now, is one you have already made in the past. So now you can ask yourself: What have I learnt from this and how do these experiences and lessons influence my current decision?


This question is a particularly challenging mental exercise because it requires you not only to have a deep understanding of the cyclical nature of life and decision-making, but also the ability to think beyond the boundaries of linear time.


The idea that every decision you make now, has already been made in the past, challenges you to re-evaluate the concepts of time, experience and learning. This takes you into a space beyond ordinary consciousness, where you have access to insights and wisdom that go beyond the immediate experience. This forces you to make your current decisions not only based on what you explicitly know or have learnt, but also taking into account a deeper, intuitive connection with your experiences over time.


Moreover, this reflection requires you to develop a kind of self-awareness and self-criticism that goes far beyond the mundane. You need to be able to critically scrutinise your own decision-making processes, your values and your learning mechanisms. You ask yourself not only what the best decision is, but also how the repeated confrontation with this decision shapes and changes you as a person.


This requires remarkable mental flexibility and openness, the ability to look at yourself and life from a radically different perspective.


Engaging in such reflection can lead you in unexpected ways to ideas and thoughts that you may not have seen coming and which you can then take into account for further consideration and incorporate into your decision-making process.


Nietzsche's approach helps you to make decisions that not only make sense in the moment, but also contribute in the long term to shaping a life that you would live again and again with joy, enthusiasm and without regret, in view of the eternal recurrence.



The eternal recurrence as a mirror for pain and growth


However, the examination of Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence not only offers a perspective for inspiring or life-changing decisions, but also challenges us to consider the inevitably painful aspects of our lives. Such moments of loss, failure or profound disappointment appear in the light of eternal recurrence as touchstones of our existence.


Und täglich grüsst das Murmeltier – eine mögliche Entscheidungshilfe für dein Leben

Let's say, you are going through a particularly difficult phase, perhaps a deep personal loss or a professional defeat that brings you to the brink of despair. Nietzsche's thought experiment invites you to consider this moment from the perspective of eternal recurrence: Would you be willing to experience this pain, this challenge, an infinite number of times?

My spontaneous answer to this would instinctively be «hell no!», what kind of a sick brain would voluntarily wish for pain and loss? That goes completely against our nature.


But I would remind you, that we are not only playing a game, that we cannot win, but we are also playing a game, whose rules we have no say in. So the first challenge for us is, to simply accept this fact.


But merely accepting this fact is not enough for Nietzsche.


The idea behind it is, that even in the most painful experiences there is a hidden value, a lesson or a potential for growth. And if we are prepared to accept these moments as an integral part of our existence, we can develop a form of inner strength and resilience that extends far beyond the immediate situation.


But that's not the end of it.


The essential difference between conventional reflection and Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence lies in the depth and perspective, with which we view our experiences.


In conventional reflection, which for most of us probably arises automatically from a difficult situation, we often look for ways to learn from or overcome these situations, with a focus on growth or change for the future. With the aim of avoiding or better overcoming similar challenges in the future.


Nietzsche, on the other hand, goes one step further.


His concept of eternal recurrence challenges us to always look at every painful experience from the perspective, that we will relive it an infinite number of times. His perspective compels us to recognize the inherent value and significance of every experience, not just as something to be overcome or learned from, but as something essential and inseparably connected to our lives. His point is not just to consider, how we might do things differently in the future, but to affirm each experience so deeply, that the idea of its infinite repetition is not off-putting, but enriching or even desirable.


In other words, that you not only learn to accept the pain of your defeats and losses, but even embrace them with enthusiasm, fully aware, that they are necessary and inseparable from all other aspects of your life.


Such an attitude requires a radical acceptance of life in all its facets and leads to a profound appreciation of the moment and our existence. Instead of seeing experiences as mere obstacles or lessons to be overcome, we see them as essential parts of our being that shape and define us.


By applying Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence to our reflection on challenges and pain, we broaden our horizons of self-examination. We are encouraged to ask not only the «why?», the «what?» or the «how?», but also to consider the «what if again and again?», which leads us to a deeper and more comprehensive acceptance of our lives, in all their complexity and beauty.



 

«... My formula for human greatness is amor fati:

that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity.

Not merely to bear the necessary, much less conceal it, but to love it ...» Friedrich Nietzsche



 

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