Who moved my cheese - by Aditi Patil

Who Moved My Cheese

Who moved my Cheese is a fable about 2 mice – Sniff and Scurry, and 2 little people Hem & Haw. The story starts on a happy note with them having an abundant supply of cheese. However, the supply gets depleted, and they are faced with the unknown. The rest of the story chronicles how they each handle this change differently. Hem & Haw become victims, focusing on the loss. Sniff & Scurry move on, in search of new cheese. 

The Cheese is a metaphor for anything in our life. It could be our job, relationship, moving to a new place, and so on. What happens when our cheese is moved?

For me, my cheese has been my job, and the place where I live. In the last 5 years, I have moved 4 times across countries and continents. You can read more about my journey here and here.

Every time, I have been faced with a potential move, my initial reaction is like Hem and Haw. I am appalled by the suggestion of the move. I declare that I do not want to move. Then, I move into a victim mindset. Why me? Why my cheese? 

Eventually like Sniff and Scurry I learnt that moving through change, and building from losses makes you stronger. The first step to that was to understand why change is hard. 

Have you ever sat in a comfy couch for a long time? It is now warm, and has almost adjusted to our body shape. What if someone asked you to move? What would your first reaction be? If you are like 90% of people, you would hesitate. Your brain would question the need to move. You would face resistance. Some studies have shown that even when faced with a life-threatening situation, people tend to resist. 

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz; the world’s leading expert in neuroplasticity articulates this in an interview with Dr. David Rock– The Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. 

“At the level of individual neurons, brains are built to detect changes in the environment and send out strong signals to alert us to anything unusual. Error detection signals are generated by a part of the brain called the orbital cortex ( located right over the eyeballs) which in turn is closely connected to the brain’s fear circuitry called the Amygdala. These two areas compete with resources and direct brain resources away from the prefrontal region, which is known to promote and support higher intellectual functions. This pushes us to act more emotionally and more impulsively. Our animal instincts start to take over.”

This can also explain the “Fight or Flight” response which we can have when faced with a move or any other big change.

However , we can change our approach to change by using the concept of attention density. 

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz says , “  Attention density is the description of how much attention we pay, or the number of observations we make over a specific time. Simply put, the more focused we are, the closer we look, the higher the attention density or our focus and concentration. With enough attention density, our individual thoughts can play a role in how we perceive the world. That means, wherever we choose to put our attention, can change the brain and how we see and interact with the world.

If we choose to focus on negative situations, our brain will look for and find more of those around us. If we choose to look for positive situations, our brain will look for and find evidence of those.

What does this all boil down to?

  • Change is hard for the brain, and our first response will always be of resistance or a Fight or Flight response.
  • We can change our response to change by focusing our attention to the positive areas of that change. 

I work as a coach with clients who are relocating. For them, they are undergoing two of the biggest changes; change in location, and a change in the job. The insights into our brain can help us understand why we may be more emotional before or during a move. 

What does this mean for people who are in the middle of a relocation?

Accept that change is hard, and don’t fight the resistance. 

Mindfully begin to shift focus on all the positive aspects of the move. 

Personally, I struggled for months to find one thing positive about my last move. Eventually I agreed on one small point. It was finding an amazing doctor for my family that we didn’t have in our earlier location. As I focused on one positive thing at a time, I began to see many others. 

In the book, Who moved my Cheese, Spencer Johnson’s message is: instead of seeing change as the end of something, we must learn to see it as a beginning. We have all been told this, but sometimes motivation is lacking. To make himself accept reality, Haw writes this on the wall of the maze: “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”

So, if you find yourself in the middle of, before or after a big change. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself.

Your cheese may have moved, but you can always find new cheese wherever you are.

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