Book Summary: Who Moved My Cheese? By Dr. Spencer Johnson | Analysis and Quotes
Updated: Feb 6
3 Big Lessons:
Be adaptive and experiment in life to meet your goals. Don’t hold on to what has served you in the past.
Fear of change is worse than the reality. Our own mind can freeze us from making a change.
You can learn the skills of change. The more you change, your ability to respond to future changes increases.
Toby's favourite Who Moved My Cheese Quotes:
“What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”
“The More Important Your Cheese Is To You The More You Want To Hold On To It.”
Toby’s Top Takeaway:
In this summary of Who Moved My Cheese, you will see the principles of change in action. The book's theme is universal. Everyone is always experiencing a change to some degree. Some people welcome it, some avoid it.
“Each of us has our own idea of what Cheese is, and we pursue it because we believe it makes us happy. If we get it, we often become attached to it. And if we lose it, or it’s taken away, it can be traumatic.”
The story is great when helping others through change. The four who moved my cheese characters provide examples of how people might respond:
Sniffs - High awareness. They can sense change quickly and identify possible opportunities.
Scurrys - Embrace change and quickly look to put it into action. These people can help create the initial momentum in your change journey.
Hems - Feel afraid and anxious about change. It’s important to help them visualize a positive future and find new goals.
Haws - Require evidence that any change is going to work and benefit them. Without the evidence, they won’t believe the change is worth it.
Who Moved My Cheese Coaching Exercise:
Toby has used this exercise to help people impacted by change:
Share the book with each person impacted by the change
Ask everyone to read - It can easily be read in 30mins
Bring the group back together and ask for reflections
From the who moved my cheese characters, which do you resonate with most?
How does this story compare to your personal situation?
If you visualize a future goal, what is that?
This can draw out an open discussion about change in a safe way.
One final point. I would highly recommend Forever Employable by Jeff Gothelf. This book shares practical ways you can embrace change in your career and stay employable.
This quote from Forever Employable certainly relates:
I was screwed because in five years I would be overpaid and unemployable. Positions that paid the money I was making would be very few and far in between. My career was anything but future-proofed. It was future-screwed.
Who Moved My Cheese shares the principles to move forward from a challenge like this.
A longer analysis of Who Moved My Cheese
Below are more detailed who moved my cheese cliff notes. In addition several of the best who moved my cheese quotes.
What are the goals in your life?
This book is told in the form of a short story. The central characters are two mice, named Sniff and Scurry, and two people, named Hem and Haw.
Cheese is used as a metaphor throughout the book. Cheese represents what you want in life - a good job, a loving relationship, money or a possession.
The story plays out in a maze as 2 mice and 2 people search for the people. The maze represents where you look for what you want. An organisation, family or community.
Different approaches to change
The mice, Sniff and Scurry, with their simple and responsive outlook on life have an adaptive approach to change. They expect change to happen. As such they are continuously experimenting and learning how to get the cheese.
In contrast, the two people, Hem and Haw overthink their approach to obtaining the cheese. Which in life is a metaphor for their goals and desires. They plan, scheme and think about all the ways they can get the cheese. This overthinking means that often they do not get the cheese. Their plans backfire and they get stuck in their existing situation.
Good things must come to an end
At one point in the story Hem and Haw find a huge stash of cheese. Pleased their plans have finally paid off. They enjoy cheese and become very comfortable. However soon the cheese starts to run out. The two mice were still experimenting and learning. They had noticed the cheese had started to run out. The people, however, were blind to the problems ahead. Their comfortable surroundings had blinded them to what was really going on.
The key lesson here is to not get too comfortable with your current situation. Be aware that things are always changing. Pay attention to the bigger picture.
“Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves.”
Don't let fear hold you back
Fear is explored throughout the book. As the people were comfortable with their existing situation when they needed to find new “cheese” fear set in. They were fearful if other good cheese existed.
“The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”
Visualise your goals
One way to overcome this fear is to visualize your goals. Create a compelling vision that can help you see a better future. In the story, one of the people gains confidence through this visualisation and starts to search for new cheese. Once they start, they realise change isn’t so bad. They learn that the more they change the easier it becomes. They learn the skills of change.
“He realized his fears were making things worse. So he did what he would do if he weren’t afraid. He moved in a new direction. As he started running down the dark corridor he began to smile. Haw didn’t realize it yet, but he was discovering what nourished his soul. He was letting go and trusting what lay ahead for him, even though he did not know exactly what it was. To his surprise, Haw started to enjoy himself more and more. “Why do I feel so good?” he wondered. “I don’t have any Cheese and I don’t know where I am going.” Before long, he knew why he felt good.”
Who Moved My Cheese Video Summary
Here is a great video summary of Who Moved My Cheese.