Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson is a fantastic little book, originally released almost 20 years ago, about how one can successfully deal with change. The story features four characters; two mice called Sniff and Scurry and two little people named Hem and Haw. The mice represent the simple parts of ourselves and Hem and Haw the complex parts. Sniff ‘sniffs’ out changes early and Scurry ‘scurries’ into action. Hem blocks and fears change and as a result remains stagnant whereas Haw is more open and willing to adapt to change as he sees change leading to something better. Haw is prepared to ‘move with the cheese’ whilst Hem perpetually moans ‘who moved my cheese?’.
For Haw it’s not just about acquiring more cheese. He is just as excited by the journey, challenge and adventure of finding it. So even if he failed in his quest to find more cheese, the buzz of trying to find more is more satisfying than simply complaining about having no cheese left whilst feeling trapped and always remaining at the same station without ever moving.
Initially, I assumed the book to be more of a manual to achieve success professionally. A book for businesses. But it is much more than that. The story is timeless and up there with the greats like The Prophet and Aesop’s Fables.
In my life I have played the roles of all of these characters. Yet it has been the character of Hem who I’ve played the most. Those times of fear, procrastination, denial and sabotaging my happiness, which have affected my life. These emotions have always anchored me to the same station and very soon I become trapped. And even when there’s cheese remaining, it’s taste is different and it’s just not satisfying anymore. Clawing at this remaining cheese doesn’t pump my heart or nourish my soul or spice up my life.
Sometimes I want to ask ‘who put this brain inside of me?’ Some may sniff (no pun intended!) at the brain of a mouse and how it lacks the complexity of a human brain but precisely! It deals in simplicity and basic instincts and doesn’t have any of this crazy emotional baggage which wrecks havoc on our lives. Their skills to move on and adapt are more advanced than ours. They don’t waste time unnecessarily overanalysing things.
Expanding on this short story, is it enough to settle on finding just any cheese station? It is one thing setting off and finding more cheese, but more specifically, are you after a particular kind of cheese? Cheese is a metaphor for all kinds of things. This could be money, a certain possession, a fulfilling job, a certain type of partner, a new experience, excellent health, happiness, inner peace etc. – it can be anything you want.
What is my cheese? Perhaps for me the best type of cheese is the one called Self-Discovery or Self-Knowledge. The more I get to know myself the more of this cheese gets accumulated. Even if at times the journey is painful, as I navigate the maze to find more of this type of cheese, I invariably get hopelessly lost, demoralised and insecure that I will never find more of this Self-Knowledge cheese on the less travelled roads of the maze. It is much easier and less painful to search through the more accessible routes of the maze of life and look for more ordinary cheese. A station containing enormous slabs of mass produced mild bland cheddar may be enough for some and there is nothing wrong with that – each to their own. But what a thing it would be to find a cheese station containing some of the rarest, most exotic and tastiest cheeses. Rich and irresistibly creamy and tangy flavoured French and Italian cheeses for example.
Yet the paths of the maze to reach the stations containing these cheeses can be emotionally treacherous and many have lost their heads and their minds, and simply given up. The roads on this maze are not well paved and well lit 10 lane highways where one can idly cruise and be off their guard. Oh no sir! If only!! These roads are more like narrow hazardous Himalayan passes at least 5000 metres above sea level where just one minor slip could be fatal. It is challenging and demands full concentration but what a buzz to travel on those roads! Once you’ve travelled on those roads travelling on all other roads is a piece of old piss. In fact, after having successfully navigated those roads, travelling on those well lit 10 lane highways becomes an insufferably dull experience. You then almost become allergic to Hem!! Hem is fearful of change but you become fearful of ever ending up like Hem. You begin to embrace change like most people walk through their front door.
This is an indispensable book. Short, concise, to the point and it may even change your life and your ways of thinking for the better.
by Nicholas Peart
2nd June 2016
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