Whilst at the bookstore after having read The Dip by Seth Godin, I continued on to look through the bestsellers.  I saw sitting there Who Moved My Cheese? I had heard of this book from Dave Ramsey’s radio show in which he has this, along with many other titles, on a required reading list for all new employees. With frugality in mind, I left the retail store and headed to the library. I checked out three books. Who Moved My Chesse? by Spencer Johnson, another Johnson book Yes or No the Guide to Better Decisions and another Godin, Small is the New Big. More on those to come in later posts.

My favorite books are the short ones. I’m talking two hours or less of read time.  Admittedly, my attention span is lacking so the longer the book, the longer (I mean months longer) it takes me to finish. I’m still in the middle of The Millionaire Next Door, Your Money or Your Life, and Think and Grow Rich. I especially prefer narratives as I find those are able to keep my ADD at bay. That is one reason why I like Andy Andrews books and also Who Moved My Cheese?

This is a story of four characters traveling through a maze looking for, you guessed it, cheese. Two of the characters are mice, Sniff and Scurry. The other two are little people, Hem and Haw. Every morning the four of them would get up and ran around the maze looking for cheese. The mice would use trial and error through the corridors to find the cheese. Hem and Haw used their ability to think and learn and relied on their complex brains to find the cheese. Most time it served them well, but at others, their beliefs and emotions clouded their judgment.  Nevertheless, they all found the cheese in the same corridor.

Each day was the same, they’d all get up and seek out the cheese.  Only as the days went by Hem and Haw began to take their time to get to the cheese, under the presumption there was enough cheese to last forever. The people had brought their friends over, starting decorating the corridor and became comfortable. The mice on the other hand inspected the cheese each day for any change.

Then one day the cheese was gone. Sniff and Scurry had noticed the supply of cheese was getting smaller and they were prepared for the inevitable and knew instinctively what to do next.  The mice did not overanalyze the situation. Their assessment was rather simple. The situation had changed so they decided to change and off they went throughout the rest of the maze looking for more cheese.

When Hem and Haw finally arrived they were unprepared for what they found. The people started yelling “Who moved my cheese?” “It’s not fair!” They were not ready for this. They spent a long time trying to figure out what to do. Who had taken their cheese? Why would they take it? Why had this happened to Hem and Haw? They returned home that evening hungry and discouraged.

The next day they went back to the same corridor and for some reason they still expected to find their cheese. But the situation hadn’t changed. They wanted to ignore that the supply of cheese was slowly getting smaller. They analyzed the situation over and over with their complex brain and belief system. Why had they taken their cheese? Haw suggested that perhaps since the situation had changed maybe they needed to change. But Hem’s response was “Why should we change? We’re entitled to our cheese. Somebody did this and we should get something out of it. I’m going to get to the bottom of this!”

Meanwhile, the mice already moved on and went farther into the maze. After some time, they did find cheese again.  More cheese than they had imagined.

The little people continued to return to the empty corridor waiting for someone to put their cheese back. Haw had begun to wonder if Sniff and Scurry had found new cheese. He finally decided he too could find new cheese and yelled to Hem to carry on. Hem said no, he liked it there, it’s what he knew, it was comfortable, besides its dangerous out there and I’m too old to be running around in the unknown and getting lost.  With that, Haw’s fear of failing returned and his hope of finding new cheese faded.

They kept returning to the same corridor each day, only growing hungrier and more tired. Hem suggested that if they just sit and wait they’re bound to put the cheese back. But the cheese never came back. Haw came to the realization that they had kept doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He asked himself, where am I more likely to find cheese? Out in the maze or here where I know there isn’t any. Haw could see himself running through the maze, getting lost now and again but still pursuing new cheese.  He begin to picture himself finding the cheese, better cheese and more of it. Haw had decided to pursue the new cheese but Hem didn’t want to change.  So Haw wrote a note on the wall for Hem: “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”

Haw knew Hem was wondering who moved their cheese but Haw was wondering why he hadn’t seen it sooner? Haw looked at into the maze and became anxious.  Then he wrote on the wall: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” He looked into the dark maze and felt the fear but he took a deep breath and started to run into the unknown. He started to wonder if he had waited too long? He decided then the next time he was in that situation he would get out of his comfort zone and adapt to change sooner.

He had found a few morsels of cheese along the way, had gotten lost, become discouraged and still felt unsure of himself.  But he persisted on with the clear purpose of finding new cheese. Reflecting back on the old cheese, he realized that had he taken notice of the cheese it probably wouldn’t have taken him by surprise when it was gone. He would have expected the change. He wrote a note on the wall: “Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.”

Haw was feeling empty inside, he still had not found any new cheese and felt like giving up. He wondered if Hem had moved on or if he was still paralyzed by his fears. Haw remembered when he felt at his best was when he was moving along in the maze. He made a note on the wall: “Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese.”

He became afraid again, wondering what dangers lay ahead. Then he reasoned to himself that his fear was making it worse. What would he do if he weren’t afraid? He would keep running.  And so he did. He started to feel better though he still tired and hungry. He wrote again: “When you move beyond your fear, you feel free.”

Once Haw got over his fear, running through the maze became more enjoyable. He pictured himself again laying atop a huge pile of new cheese and found himself reinvigorated. He wrote: “Imagining myself enjoying new cheese even before I find it, leads me to it.”

He raced through the maze with greater strength. He came upon a different corridor with bits of cheese left over.  He wondered if he had left sooner and found this pile sooner he would have found more cheese. He wrote on the wall: “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you will find new cheese.”

Haw began to believe that it was only a matter of time before he found new cheese. He was happy he wasn’t being run by his fear anymore and content knowing he had taken a new direction that gave him strength. He wrote on the wall: “It is safer to search in the maze than remain in a cheeseless situation.”

With another realization, Haw knew the fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists. He’d been so afraid of never finding new cheese that he didn’t even want to start looking. He used to believe that the cheese should never be moved and that change wasn’t right. But now he knew it was natural for change to continually occur, whether you expect it to or not. When Haw realized he had changed his beliefs he wrote: “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

His new beliefs were encouraging new behaviors. You can believe that finding new cheese will help you and you embrace the change instead of believing change will harm you and you resist it. He wrote: “When you see that you can find and enjoy new cheese, you change course.”

As he thought back to where he had come from, he was glad he had written on the wall so that Hem may read it and follow it through the maze. He had been finding bits of cheese along the way and was now more confident than ever that he would find this new cheese. He wrote on the wall: “Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are to come.”

Haw continued on through the corridors until finally he came to one where the cheese was piled high, it was the greatest supply of cheese. Then he noticed his old friends Sniff and Scurry. They had been here for some time. Haw thought of the mistakes he had made, not noticing the change, not adapting to it, letting fear inhibit his behavior. He thought about going back for Hem but knew Hem would have to find his own way. He had already tried to help him and Hem did not want to change. He summarized his insights:

Change happens. They keep moving the cheese.

Anticipate change. Get ready for the cheese to move.

Monitor change. Smell the cheese often so you know when its getting old.

Adapt to change quickly. The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.

Change. Move with the cheese.

Enjoy Change! Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese!

Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again. They keep moving the cheese.

I think this is one of the greatest books that everyone should read.  And read it often so you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Our tendency is to try to figure out why things happen to us, when instead, if we would focus that energy on moving forward our recovery would be swifter and the alternative most times greater.

Which character are you?