I was recently watching the first season of a fantasy show* on Netflix, and towards the end of the season a character reveals that everything they had experienced up until now had been part of a time loop. They'd gotten that far something like 40+ times, and each time they had chosen one element to change at the outset to try to change the outcome. And in the most recent iteration, they made the biggest, most dramatic change yet. And it had changed everything. (Ripples in a pond, butterfly effect, whatever.)
The thing that surprised me the most, though, was that in a subsequent episode, the main character was able to see his flaws for the first time and recognize that just because he wanted to be the hero, didn't mean he was meant to be the hero. He is able to see his own limitations and pride, and step aside in favor of someone who was more skilled. That moment of insight gave me my own moment of insight--that we are all able to break free of our own patterns at any time. It just takes a lot of work.
Basically, the idea of the "time loop" for me came to mean "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome." If you've seen the classic and awesome movie Groundhog Day, you know what a time loop is. The MC (main character) is stuck reliving the same day over and over and over until he is able to learn how to be selfless, and thus get his love interest to fall in love with him. (yeah. in a day. yeah, he had been a douche up to that day. yeah, that part is a little far fetched. it's a movie!)
So after ~34 years (according to this article), he is able to break out of his timeloop. WOW. Self realization takes a long time, apparently. In his case, it was a lot of little things that made the difference, but I would argue that his first major, massive change is the realization that he couldn't achieve his goal if he wasn't willing to change. That insight started the whole thing.
From a writer's perspective, this moment of insight is usually thought of as the midpoint / mirror moment (according to James Scott Bell). It is the first time the MC realizes who they could be if they get over the "wound" (aka the lie they believe about themself that is preventing them from becoming the best version of themself). They look in the mirror and ask if they can get there, and they usually start trying to take steps after that moment to change. They want to break out of the time loop they have built for themself by being unwilling to see that they need to change if they want to be successful.
Newsflash: this also can happen in real life! You can realize what bad patterns (or "time loops") you have written yourself into, and you can get yourself out of them. No, I am not transitioning from an author to a self-help guru. But I wanted to add some personal stakes to the post.
So what is/was my "time loop" you may ask? (personal question there, guys!) Basically, I realized that for me, many of my past romantic relationships had adhered to what authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller call the "anxious-avoidant trap" in their amazing book Attached. (If you only read one book this year, read this book. Seriously. Life changing stuff in there.) And that as long as I kept following the same pattern, I was doomed to repeat the same fate. As in, an unhappy Kat in a relationship that wasn't providing what I was looking for. That was my time loop. And escaping it luckily did not involve 34 years of learning to be a professional ice sculptor or piano player. It just involves recognizing avoidant attachers (read the book), and not pursuing relationships with them.
I think for anyone, and for your MC in your stories, change is always going to be a challenge. But self-awareness is an important first step in the process. Actively trying to change yourself (after becoming willing to change yourself) is one of the things we love to see in good MCs! We can all benefit from some self-examination of what our own personal "time loops" are, and some deep thinking about how to escape them.
Feel free to sound off in the comments: what's your time loop? How are you doing in the escape process? Did you like the movie Groundhog Day? Did you like the unnamed fantasy show that featured the time loop?
* I don't want to tell you the show, because it was such a neat reveal, it blew my mind...and I wouldn't want to take that away from you. If you desperately want to know, just message me and I will tell you. But I digress.