Who Moved My Cheese? summary and free printable workbook to help you not only deal with change but thrive as a result of it.
The book “Who Moved My Cheese” (1998) by Dr. Spencer Johnson (a physician and psychologist) offers valuable help on how to cope with change in your life. Everyone experiences change at some point – whether it is a change in your financial situation or difficulties in a relationship. The book provides tools to help you better understand human nature and see change as a positive force. You don’t need to simply cope with change. You can use change to thrive.
In life, change is constant and inevitable. It is easier to cope with change when you anticipate it. Since change happens whether you want it to or not, Dr. Spencer Johnson shows us that what matters most is the attitude we have about change. Those who adapt quickly to change will thrive and those who don’t will suffer.
The Who Moved My Cheese book tells a story about a group of old friends who meet to catch up on old times. They discuss how their lives unfolded and how some things in their lives were unexpected and not foreseen.
One of them told a story regarding the need to adapt in order to survive. In the story, he speaks of four characters – two mice, named Sniff and Scurry, and two little people the size of mice, named Hem and Haw. They live in a maze and are constantly looking for cheese in the maze. The story focuses on the four characters’ efforts to find cheese in the maze. The cheese in the maze symbolizes success in life or anything that can be a sense of security (such as a job or a relationship). The two mice (Sniff and Scurry) don’t overthink things. They spend their days running around the maze looking for cheese for nourishment. If they reach the end of the path and don’t find cheese, they simply turn around and look for another path. They are not angry or frustrated. They just keep going without thinking too much. The simple “brainless” way in which these two mice achieve their goal is often the most effective method. The story shows how acting without thinking too much can save you time and energy.
The two little people (Hem and Haw) also search for cheese in the maze. However, they don’t consider it simply a source of nourishment as the mice did. They thought that finding cheese would make them feel happy and successful. Their more “complex” brains, worked out strategies to find cheese. They didn’t trust their instincts. Instead, they relied on guidebooks and memorized the layout of the maze to increase their chances of finding the cheese. However, despite their planning, they still often got confused, and sometimes lost their way. When they took a path and didn’t find cheese, they became depressed and started wondering if they would ever find happiness.
When Hem and Haw (the two little people) found a huge stash of fancy imported cheese, at Cheese Station C, they assumed it would be there forever. Their lives gradually began to revolve around the feast at Cheese Station C. They were very proud of it and started to take it for granted.
Like Hem and Haw, when we find success or “our cheese,” we can quickly become dependent on it, so much so that our life revolves only around our “cheese.” It also shows how we become overly attached to the status quo.
Hem and Haw were so comfortable there that they didn’t pay attention to what was happening around them. The cheese was diminishing and they didn’t even notice it. They even got rid of their shoes assuming they wouldn’t need them anymore and would never need to go looking for new cheese one day.
Unfortunately, things are constantly changing in life and success doesn’t always last forever. In the story, Hem and Haw woke up one morning and discovered that their cheese was gone. It caught them by surprise and they were totally unprepared for this.
The two mice (Sniff and Scurry) on the other hand, never took the cheese for granted. Since they expected a change, they noticed that the amount of cheese was slowly but steadily declining and were not surprised when it disappeared. When you expect things to remain the same, you may miss the signs that things are indeed changing .
The mice noticed right away that the cheese was nearly gone and went looking for a new stash. They found new cheese at Cheese Station N. Hem and Haw were not as willing to adapt to the new situation. They simply couldn’t cope with it. They kept going back to the empty station hoping that something would change but it didn’t. They eventually became hungry, weak, and depressed.
When you are convinced that you deserve an endless supply of cheese (success or good relationship or good health) then anything that takes your cheese from you seems unfair and you might not even be able to accept this new reality.
Hem and Haw felt that the cheese was a reward for the hard work they put into finding it and they could not accept the fact that it disappeared.
Hem and Haw were scared to go back into the maze to look for food. They were worried they would get lost or encounter obstacles on the way. Instead of simply looking for a new path they wasted time and energy trying to find cheese at Cheese Station C and even smashed down the walls to see if there was cheese behind them. Haw eventually wanted to leave but Hem didn’t want to look for new sources of cheese. He was afraid that things would be dangerous or they would get lost.
In life, a number of things can change. Your partner can leave you, you can lose your job, and an injury can prevent you from doing things you love. The loss you feel can be devastating. However, you will not be able to recover until you find a new way to bring whatever you lost back into your life. You will have to go out and actively look for something new – a new partner, a new job, or new ways to bring joy into your life.
Even if you don’t find “cheese” you usually find new opportunities with new benefits. Your new “cheese” could be a new relationship, a new job, or a new source of happiness and joy.
As the story comes to an end, the friends sit and discuss the relevance of it in relation to their own lives and how the lessons could be applied to their personal and professional situations to increase their happiness.
The book helps you understand that you need to constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities. The story shows us that there was no shortage of cheese at Station N. Sniff and Scurry found the new stash right away since they anticipated the change and took action as soon as they noticed it. Hem and Haw wasted time and energy trying to force the old situation that didn’t work anymore to meet their needs. They only succeeded when they had the guts to try a new method and overcome their fear.
It is easier to embrace new opportunities if you learn to let go of your old habits.
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Dr. Spencer Johnson
- Change is constant and inevitable.
The only thing that is constant is change. “The Cheese keeps moving”. The key to successful leadership is realizing that change is inevitable and actually a good thing.
- The anticipation of change makes it easier when it occurs
Nothing lasts forever, so keep your eyes open for approaching changes. Monitor situations so that you can be aware of the small changes before they are bigger.
Change is always bound to happen, sooner or later. Instead of fooling yourself that things will stay the same forever, always keep an eye open for change.
Sniff and Scurry realized the cheese was diminishing before it finally disappeared. Since they both expected it to happen, it helped them be prepared to search for cheese. Since Hem and Haw had not anticipated this, they were not ready to come to terms with the situation.
Some changes cannot be anticipated such as a sudden death. However, many situations can be anticipated such as parents who find it difficult when their kids leave home or businesses that experience difficulties. By using foresight and planning in anticipation of change, the empty feeling of an empty house can be gradually eased into or a loss of income can be overcome by planning in advance and looking for new opportunities.
- Stop thinking too much about your cheese and start chasing it.
Don’t waste too much time thinking about how to force things that are no longer serving you to work for you. Instead, start looking for new opportunities that will better meet your needs.
- When letting go of your old habits and ways, it is easier for you to adapt to changes while embracing new opportunities.
The two mice find a new cheese source before the two little people do because they were able to let go of the old, in order to find and enjoy the new.
When one door closes another one opens. However, one might not notice the newly opened door if you are still fixated on the closed one.
- Focus on the positive things change can bring instead of the things you will lose.
By visualizing your success and happiness, you can more easily focus on what you wish to gain rather than what has been lost.
Most people are fearful of change because they don’t believe they have any control over how or when it happens to them.
Visualizing your goals is a great way to help you deal with change. The reason people have difficulty dealing with change is due to fear. Change forces you to cope with a new situation and a new set of rules. This is disorienting and frustrating which is why it’s natural to be scared of change.
Haw eventually discovered a good way to deal with his fear. He visualized himself sitting on his favorite cheese.
After Haw started visualizing his goal he had the guts to try new directions in search of cheese. Hem, on the other hand, refused to leave Cheese Station C. He stayed there hungry and angry and was simply too afraid to leave.
Once Haw moved in a new direction, his situation improved dramatically. He found that searching for something new is exciting. He is proud that he has adapted to change and to his new situation and writes his thoughts on a wall in the hope it would encourage Hem to embrace change. Haw did eventually understand that no matter how much he wanted Hem to change and overcome his fear of the unknown he cannot force him to do this until he is ready to embrace change.
- Face your fears!
Fear paralyzes people and stops them from embracing new opportunities that may arise.
Thinking too much about your cheese or the things that are familiar might paralyze you, so just start looking for new cheese or new opportunities.
When you move in a new direction, you learn how to better embrace change. Once you manage to overcome your fears, you will find it easier and easier each time you are confronted with change. You’ll have the confidence to move on again and try new things. You will not be paralyzed by fear.
Fear stops people from embracing and accepting new opportunities that may come their way. Leaving what was and accepting what is new can be an exhilarating experience.
Haw was initially scared to try a new path but as he progressed he found the courage to continue. Once he did he was proud of himself for overcoming his fears and he felt really good. Eventually, he regained his strength and confidence and he also found Cheese Station N where Sniff and Scurry had found lots of cheese as soon as they realized that their cheese had been moved.
- Breaking out of old habits and trying something new can be an exhilarating experience.
Haw was hesitant to venture out into the unknown but he soon started enjoying himself. Stagnation leads to boredom. Even if you are comfortable things get boring if they constantly stay static.
When you search for a new challenge or set a new goal you are full of purpose.
- It is important for one to keep up to date with things outside your comfort zone in order to be prepared for any changes.
Even though Haw found another Cheese Station, he still explored the areas that surround it so that he will be prepared in the event that things once again change. He now understands that he needs to be prepared for change. Since he is now familiar with the surrounding areas he feels more confident to go there if need be. He is prepared emotionally.
It is important that one constantly stays on top of things (such as new technologies, new methods, ideas, etc.) so that one will always be ready to embrace change when it happens (not if it happens but when it happens).
- Adapt to change quickly. The sooner you take action the easier it will be to make positive changes.
You can always find new cheese. There are always new opportunities to be found. Take action and start looking for them instead of wasting time trying to come to terms with things that are no longer serving you. Acknowledge that change is an opportunity for growth and development.
Free Printable Workbook
This free printable workbook will help you apply the principles of the book in your life. It will help you anticipate changes and prepare for them.
Who Moved My Cheese Characters
There are four characters in the story – two mice, named Sniff and Scurry, and two little people, named Hem and Haw.
People who are “Sniffs” observe changes before others are aware of them. They notice small changes. This enables them to predict subsequent larger changes in a marketplace. This attitude can help them discover new products and competitive angles, or update a company’s corporate vision.
People who are “Scurrys,” like to get things done. They are the first to take action.
People who are “Hems” often feel unsafe during times of change. They may be paralyzed in a changing environment. If you want to get them to take action you will have to persuade them that the change can benefit them.
Haw learns to adapt to change when it can improve his life.
- Describe a situation in your life that changed suddenly.
- How did this situation work out? Did it open up new opportunities for you?
- Did you fight the change or did you embrace it?
- Could things have worked out better if you had anticipated this change and taken action sooner?
- Identify an area of your life that is likely to change.
- List possible new opportunities.
- Could these new opportunities be better than the status quo?
- What could your life look like if these new circumstances led to something even better than the current ones?
- What can you do today to be better prepared for potential change? List the possible options.
- What would you do if you weren’t afraid you might fail?