Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson
One Line Summary
Four mice teach you about universal impermanence
Who Moved My Cheese? is a story about four mice and their never ending quest for cheese. Two of the mice, Scurry and Sniff, are normal mice. The other two, Hem and Haw, represent people. After their supply of cheese suddenly disappears, the four mice are forced to seek out new cheese. All four apply different solutions to this problem. The whole thing is an allegory for dealing with the very human problem of unexpected life changes.
Why it’s Awesome
This book was particularly relevant to me because right now I’m going through more change than I could have ever imagined. My 25th birthday was two days ago, and I can easily say that 24 was the most emotionally challenging year I’ve ever had. I quit my job, hustled like a maniac to start a business, partied in Miami, went to Colombia, went to Canada twice, got a girlfriend, went into the woods and meditated for 10 days, spent a month traveling by myself across the United States, read every book under the sun and had an existential crisis / spiritual experience.
I’m exhausted just looking at that list. It honestly feels like I lived 10 years in one. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And this is just the starting point. Once you’ve unplugged from the norm, there’s no going back. I’m not suddenly just going to get a 9-5 and spend my days watching Netflix. No offense if that’s your life, it’s just not of any interest to me.
So the point is I know something about change. By going through these wild experiences, my new comfort zone has been forced to become ambiguity. That’s not something you can just get out of a book, but Who Moved My Cheese? does about as good a job as possible.
The simplicity of this story is key. It doesn’t over complicate things, it just makes the obvious point that life does not behave as we want it to. Change is inevitable. How are you going to deal with it?
Yet despite the simplicity of the message, this is really one of those big difference makers in life. Fear of change, i.e fear of the unknown, is so powerful that people will rationalize just about anything in order to not confront that fear.
Self-development work is nothing more but a head first dive into this fear. How else can you change your life, which is what you’re trying to do, without dealing with the inevitable fear of change?
Another thing I love about this book is that it teaches you to laugh at yourself. This is a highly underrated piece of advice. You would assume that people who think of themselves as “very serious” would be the ones who are the most effective at dealing with life. Totally wrong. Serious people are the worst because extreme seriousness is nothing more than a neurotic ego.
You see, as human beings we’re put in this absolutely absurd situation called life. There are no winners. There are no losers. Nothing lasts. Nothing is better or worse than anything else. Everything is perfect as it is. So, what the fuck? What are we really doing here?
Humor, especially dark humor, is this incredible tool that allows us to deal with this situation. We can laugh at the absurdity of it, which causes a release of tension in the form of laughter. This is why the best humor often tends to be about controversial topics. You can’t really get that release of tension unless it’s something that people take seriously.
So when you’re faced with all these doubts and fears next time you’re faced with some change, that ability to laugh at your fears will on a deep level remind you that there’s no reason to take these negative thoughts so seriously. It’s all just a Dance.
Another thing I love about this book is that it contrasts bad behavior (overthinking, fear of failure) with good behavior (acceptance, responsiveness). Johnson stresses the importance of ACTION over “thinking”.
As humans, we love our minds. We think that thinking is the greatest thing ever and love to talk about how important it is. It allows us to do all this cool stuff like build rockets and land on the moon. Dumb animals don’t have thinking, that’s why they’ve never accomplished anything.
One paradigm shift I’ve had to make is that the type of thinking most of us do is actually not great. In fact, the thing that’s most holding you back from having the life you desire.
How is this possible? Yes, thinking can be a very practical tool. It’s hard to imagine functioning in the world without it. At the same time, the vast majority of our time is not spent solving world problems. Mostly it’s just repetitive, unnecessary noise that does nothing but overdramatizes everything. If you really want to get a sense of this, try doing just a couple minutes of any type of meditation.
There really is something to be said for people who are just able to quickly access a situation and immediately spring into action without sitting there and running a million imaginary situations. It’s a sign of someone with confidence, i.e self-trust.
Why Does It Suck
There isn’t much practical explanation of how to act on the lessons presented in this book. Okay great, so we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed with fear when change happens. But how to get there? Laughing at yourself, fine. That’s one method. But there’s not much else. It neglects the deep inner work that someone usually has to do in order to actually live this advice.
This is a problem with self-development books in general. Most of us “know” the right thing to do at all times. You “know” that you shouldn’t eat the triple greasy cheeseburger if you’re trying to lose weight. But we do it anyway because we don’t have the willpower to overcome those cravings. So there’s a large difference between knowledge and true awareness. An INTERNAL change and awareness is needed to really see any lasting change. But internal work is often very abstract and often confusing so many people tend to discount it. That’s a huge mistake.
The Wrap Up
I definitely like this book. It’s a cute story but also very concisely written. You won’t have to spend a lot of time or worry about cutting through fluff. So I definitely recommend this book. But it’s limited in its practical applications, mostly because it ignores this problem of knowledge vs awareness. I have other posts that talk about developing awareness so make sure you read those.
Buy Who Moved My Cheese? here on Amazon: