Has your cheese moved?

A blog about adapting to change quickly, and saving yourself a lot of suffering in doing so.

As the consequences of the global pandemic continue to unfold, more people are facing job loss, pay cuts and changes to their role. Life has changed, and as difficult as this is, it’s reality. Action is the antidote.

Simple genius

A couple of decades ago I picked up a book in an airport, and finished it on the hour flight home. It’s a short book. It remains the most powerful material I have ever seen on responding to change. Over the years I have given countless copies to friends, colleagues and clients who are in the midst of facing new circumstances. I read it myself regularly because, as simple as it is, I forget the lessons.

The book is called Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson. The book is genius, although it may appear somewhat cartoonish. It lands important messages about responding to change through a very simple story that speaks to complex parts in all of us. These days you don’t even have to read the book as it has been variously animated. Google it and take your pick.

Four characters in a maze

In a nutshell this a story about four characters in a maze, two mice and two little people. One day they discover their cheese (that which sustains them), has gone. The four characters represent four responses and four underlying mindsets:

  • Sniff, sniffs out change early

  • Scurry, scurries into action

  • Hem, denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse

  • Haw, learns to adapt in time when he sees changing can lead to something better

We all have to find our way in the maze and the maze will always change. Haw comes to realise that his journey was far more painful than Sniff and Scurry’s, and it didn’t need to be. Hem remains stuck, but maybe he will get there one day.

Key messages from Who Moved My Cheese

Having cheese makes you happy

The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold onto it
There is a correlation between that which you are attached to, your resistance in holding onto it, and the suffering that resistance causes. I say more about that in this article on Flexible Identity.

If you do not change you can become extinct
The more successful species on the planet are those that have the most flexibility for evolving and adapting. This is also true in life, relationships and leadership.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
If fear wasn’t running the show, what would you do? What could you do? In the immortal words of Susan Jeffers; ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’.

Smell the cheese often so you know when it’s getting old
Sometimes you choose change, and sometimes change chooses you. Change is inevitable. It goes better when you acknowledge and engage with it.

Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese
When we commit to a course of action the universe conspires in our favour. On a far more scientific note, there is a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). RAS has an influencing role in what we are conscious to. Clear focus on a new direction activates your RAS.

When you stop feeling afraid you feel good
Mood follows action. Action beats fear. Action is the antidote to suffering.

Imagining yourself finding new cheese leads you to it
I wonder if quantum physics will end up proving the law of attraction. Given the ‘Observer Effect’ (every act of observation influences that which is being observed), visioning your future might really help.

The sooner you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese
According to some psychologists, the most violent act in psychology is acceptance. When you accept your current circumstances, it opens the space in which a preferred future becomes a possibility. More on the power of acceptance and why change feels chaotic in Why you feel like you are losing it.

It is safer to search in the maze, than remain in a cheese-less situation
As scary as change can be, it’s safer to get busy than to remain stuck. Perception often gets in the way, and the bigger challenge is managing anxiety.

Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese
Of the things you remain attached to and cause you to suffer, belief is the most dangerous. Behaviour does not shift without belief doing so first. More on the relationship between belief and behaviour in Rudder in the storm – Part 1

When you see that you can find and enjoy new cheese, you change your course
This implies the deeper issue of self-belief and confidence. What can help?

  • Take action on the next smallest step

  • Surround yourself with people who support you

  • Re-engage with mentors

  • Connect to your network

  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable (vulnerability is courage by another name).

Move with the cheese and enjoy it
This is a big part of what the Towards Safer Uncertainty series is all about. Moving Towards Safer Uncertainty is a practice. It’s a lot like mindfulness in that attaining presence is temporary. Change will always occur, and so the practice of engaging with change is a useful discipline (and ultimately you have no choice). Maybe you can even learn to hold it a little more lightly, or even enjoy it.

Let’s do something with it: Cheesy questions

  • What’s the next smallest positive action you can take?

  • What else could you do?

  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

  • What are you attached to, which by letting go of that attachment, would free you up for progress?

  • What do you need to acknowledge and accept?

  • What does a compelling vision of the future look like for you?

  • Could you create a vison board to help your focus?

  • What mentors could you speak with that could help?

  • Who can you connect with in your network that could help?

  • Are you holding onto any beliefs or identities that are hindering rather than helping?

  • Who does your workplace need you to be now?

  • What does your workplace need you to do now?

  • What opportunities do you see at work that you could begin a conversation about?

  • Who and what are you prepared to be for your organisation?

  • How could you help your boss right now?

If you’d like some help in processing the changes you are experience, and/or taking forward action, drop me a line.



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Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash


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