A light and refreshing classic on how we should manage change in our livesA light and refreshing classic on how we should manage change in our lives
I got this book as a gift from my manager last Christmas. At that point in time, I was navigating through some changes in my personal and professional life. Being huge on mindfulness and mental well-being, she must have thought that this book will be apt; and how right she was! (Also can I add that books make GREAT gifts for many occasions?)
A short story about managing changes in our lives
Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson is a short story featuring two mice and two “little people” on their mission to search for cheese in a maze. The cheese represents the things we desire to achieve in life, such as happiness, success, health, wealth, etc. On the other hand, the winding paths of the maze symbolise life and existence. Finally, the mice and the little people have different personality profiles, which represent the different ways people deal with changes in their lives.
At just under 100 pages, it makes for a really quick read; I took my time with it so I finished it in two days. Clichéd sayings were distributed well throughout the text. From one angle, it reads like a bedtime story for a young child, teaching him/her about having the right mindset when managing change. However, this simplicity also gave me a sense of connection to the story, as well as a realization that dealing with change really is that simple.
Either way, I thought this book was a good break from my usual reads. Changes are common throughout life, and we should not be strangers to it. Yet, many people have had challenges dealing with them as we moved from one phase of life to another. I particularly appreciated Johnson’s way of presenting his thoughts about this matter in such a simple way, reminding us that simple solutions can solve complex problems.
Without further ado, let’s talk about my three biggest takeaways from the book!
1. Never take things for granted; things will change 2. Don't let fear prevent you from adapting to change 3. Managing change comes with a bias towards action
Takeaway #1 – Never take things for granted; thing will change
“If you do not change, you will become extinct.”Dr Spencer Johnson
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that goes, “we live in an ever-changing world today”. As clichéd as it may sound, the reality here is that it’s true. Talk to any middle-aged looking person and they’ll often tell you that what we have today didn’t exist during “their” time.
Case in point, I didn’t have a cellphone until I was in secondary school. Even then, it was one of those indestructible Nokia phones instead of the fancy smartphones everyone can’t live without now. Heck, disgruntled parents are even getting iPads to keep their wailing infants appeased while they steal a wink.
The underlying point here is this – don’t ever take things for granted. What we gain today can easily be taken away tomorrow for a variety of reasons. Sure, we should celebrate the small wins in life every now and then. However, never be complacent and assume good times will last forever effortlessly.
Things happen, whether we like it or not. There are many reasons that can be attributed to those changes, but what’s most important here is that we focus on the factors that are within in sphere of influence. The most pragmatic and productive thing to do is to work on what we can influence and accept those that we can’t.
Takeaway #2 – Don’t let fear prevent you from adapting to change
“… what you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear that you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”Dr Spencer Johnson
Think about the last time you confronted something intimidating but later realised it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Did you realise that the scenario that you played out in your head was an embarrassing exaggeration of what actually happened? That’s what fear does to you! If left unchecked, it can become an obstacle in your path to managing change effectively in your life.
Dealing with change comes with confronting ambiguity & uncertainty. I’ve personally experienced how these factors play a huge role in making me feel resistant to change. As a result, there is a tendency for me to stay well within my comfort zone, hesitant to venture outside of it.
This reminds me of the first (audio)book I read when I started my reading habit, Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins. In that book, Robbins suggested that fear comes from a place of unfamiliarity within us. She later explains that this is a signal that we lack information and clarity about a part of us. To overcome this fear, we need to seek the information needed so that the unfamiliar slowly becomes the familiar. With that newfound clarity then comes confidence and assurance which will give us the strength to navigate the changes in our lives.
Takeaway #3 – Managing change comes with a bias towards action
“It is safer to search in the maze, than remain in a cheeseless situation.”Dr Spencer Johnson
In the book, the Little People couldn’t accept their new cheese-less reality, and chose to stay in place, doing nothing but lamenting about their situation. On the other hand, the Mice simply acknowledged reality, and went off in search for new cheese almost immediately. Soon enough, they found new cheese, in greater amounts and variety as well! The mice reaped the fruits of their labour early, while the Little People just grumbled.
Once we conquer our fears, then next thing to do is to take action. When you do nothing, you go nowhere, just like the Little People. Conversely, any action is better than inaction, which in this case proved to be rewarding for the Mice. Action will always trump inaction; the process of discovery will always be a rewarding experience.
Just like the Mice, the most pragmatic and productive thing to do in situations of change is to accept what is within your sphere of influence. If it’s within it, then take action and do it. If it’s not, then no amount of displeasure will change anything. At the end of the day, you’re still better off doing something within your power to change the reality around you.
Noteworthy quotes from Who Moved My Cheese?
- “The situation… changed. So [the mice] decided to change.”
- “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
- “Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese.”
- “When you stop feeling afraid, you feel good!”
- “Imagining yourself enjoying your new cheese leads you to it.”
- “When you change what you believe, you change what you do.”
- “Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are about to come.”
- “The biggest inhibitor to change lies within yourself, and that nothing gets better until you change.”
Who Moved My Cheese? was an unexpectedly enjoyable read for me. While I’ve come across the key concepts shared by Dr Johnson in many other books, I appreciated the short read as a quick refresher and reminder about mindsets and perspectives in dealing with change. Perhaps it was also coincidental that I was in the middle of navigating through some changes in my life, so this book was pretty timely as well. Nevertheless, it makes for a nice and cosy weekend read!
Share your thoughts with me!
If you’ve read Who Moved My Cheese?, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Drop a comment below, or share this post with your friends with the tag @kopithoughts on Instagram or Twitter!