What I learned about change from Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese?”
Who Moved My Cheese is one of those books I had always heard of but never actually read. One lazy afternoon over this past Christmas break (gotta love working at a school) my Dad handed me this book off his shelf and I spent the next thirty minutes reading about mice and littlepeople chasing cheese. Who knew I could learn so much about navigating change from such a short read.
Before we get started, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. To lay the foundation, let’s all agree that change is inevitable. We won’t get far without getting that out of the way.
The next step is agreeing that it’s natural for change to be continually occurring. Constant change is a part of being alive – when we’re not fighting it, we call it growth.
Whether or not we expect it, whether or not we’re prepared for it, and even whether or not we accept it, change will happen, it is happening. So if we believe that change is inevitable, why do we resist it? Why do we prefer to sit in our comfort zones, stagnating, in a situation that is no longer sustainable, instead of moving with the change, searching, learning, and growing into a new situation? The answer is of course, fear of the unknown. Spencer asks the question:
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
This can be a hard question to answer. For many of us, our fears are so ingrained in us that as soon as an idea starts to form it is already being shaped by our limiting beliefs and fears. Not all fear is bad, some fears help keep us alive by stopping us from doing stupid things. But fear of change does the opposite, it paralyzes us, keeps us captive, and prevents us from living our lives to the fullest. Fear of change can fill our minds and hearts to the point where we cannot rationally see anything else, we cling to what we used to have, unaware that it actually no longer exists. This illusion can bring us comfort and because it isn’t real, we can romanticize it until we believe nothing else could ever measure up.
It’s true that navigating change can be hard, but it is much safer to be aware of our real choices than to isolate ourselves in our comfort zones. It is better to take control of our situation rather than simply letting things happen to us. Burying our heads in the sand causes us to think of ourselves as hapless victims rather than as people who are capable of navigating change and learning to grow into bigger and better things.
Now, we can’t always control the change. For example, significant lay-offs at work may not be something we can control, but if we are constantly watching what is happening around us, and anticipating change then we are not taken by surprise when it comes. If we can anticipate change then it no longer becomes the unknown and our fear of it can be reduced.
The “I have arrived” mindset, the thought that we have now reached a point where we are set for life, or we have attained something that will now make us happy and satisfied for the rest of our lives can be dangerous. When we think this way we stop being on the lookout for change and even more dangerous, we stop assessing where we are – to see if that thing, place, or position is still providing us what we thought it was. In his book, Spencer uses the metaphor of the cheese getting old. Are you constantly “smelling the cheese” to see if it’s starting to get stale and old? Will the provision be gone soon? Is the joy diminishing? Is that job still providing what you thought it was or is it starting to get stale? By being realistic about our choices, we can be prepared to handle change when it comes.
So, as we already all agreed at the beginning, change is going to continue to happen, and it’s going to happen regardless of whether or not we’re prepared for it. How do we manage it? We need to focus on what we can gain by embracing the change instead of focusing on what we think we might be losing. The reality is that what we are afraid of is never as bad we imagine it to be. The quickest way to change is to learn to laugh at our own foolishness, to realize how absurd many of our fears are, and to recognize how silly we are for hanging onto things that are no longer helping and supporting us the way they used to. This can sound intimidating and even cruel. After all, most of us have lived with these thinking patterns for decades, and they haven’t steered us that wrong, but if we can embrace change quickly we will be able to see much quicker and smoother growth in every area of our lives where we’re willing to look for it.
As Spencer asks:
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
What could you be prepared for? Where could you take control? What choices could you make to ensure that in your life, change = growth?