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Who Moved My Cheese: Book Summary

This article is a detailed book summary of Who Moved My Cheese, a masterpiece written by the bestselling author Spencer Johnson.

WMMC is a self-help bestseller about change, and how you can learn to accept and embrace it.

Through metaphor and allegory, Johnson tells you why change is important in life, and how you can learn to anticipate it. The author uses a parable format to drive his ideas home.

The book is simple, yet profound.

And yet, Johnson tends to depend too much on allegory sometimes. It makes his meaning murky, and the read can be frustrating at times.

That’s what prompted me to write this summary: I wanted to present a concise take on the book.

Over the following paragraphs, I’ll break down the author’s ideas and the key life lessons from Who Moved My Cheese.

Who Moved My Cheese Summary: Setting and Characters

Who Moved My Cheese takes place in a giant maze, presumably at a behavioral research lab. The maze contains two mice, Sniff and Scurry.

It also houses two tiny humans, Hem and Haw. Together, these four characters navigate the maze in search of nourishment, the cheese.

The entire setup is a metaphor for the human condition.

The cheese represents our desire. Be it money, companionship or a dream job, all humans yearn for certain things in life.

Though desire drives us, very few people are ever open to change.

Everybody faces some challenge in life. The economy can be in recession, or one’s poor interpersonal skills is keeping people away.

Of course, your situation can be conducive, or even neutral to your dreams. Johnson’s maze is a stand-in for these life situations.

Next, the mice represent our subconscious, autonomous actions. Sniff is the initial perception to a stimulus. Scurry is a metaphor for our reflex reaction to said stimulus. And finally, the littlepeople, Hem and Haw, represent your emotions. 

Hem personifies your curiosity and self-interest. Haw, on the flip side, is the naysayer inside your mind: a metaphor for your inertia and insecurity.

When a person faces any new situation, averse or otherwise, their inner Hems and Haws begin arguing.

Hem pushes the person to change things up. He opens up opportunities for you. Conversely, Haw wants to keep you static. He is comfortable with the status-quo.

If you let Haw win, you’ll never expand your boundaries.

The Story

The pursuit of happiness drives all our lives.

Some chase money, some chase jobs and others are looking for a partner. We believe attaining those things will make us happy.

In Johnson’s book, the characters are desperate for cheese.

Sniff and Scurry, being mice, use simple hit-and-trial methods to get their food. Meanwhile, Hem and Haw employ their complex brains.

They think up strategies of getting more cheese, and try to set up a rationing system. The mice enjoy life while the people scheme and plan.

As luck would have it, the characters find a huge cache of cheese right at the maze entrance. It seems expansive enough to keep them well-fed for life.

Everybody is happy, having avoided the need to venture far into the maze.

But nothing lasts forever, and soon enough, their supply of cheese dries up.

Sniff and Scurry take immediate action. Their simple brains work to their advantage here: they don’t waste time overthinking. They head into the maze, and find little bits of cheese scattered all along the way.

But the same change paralyzes Hem and Haw.

Hope and indignation keeps them rooted to the grave of the former wellspring. Hope, that their glory days will return. And indignation at having to face adversity.

Hem finally realizes the futility of inaction. He throws in the towel and heads into the maze. His reward is immediate: there’s bits of cheese scattered throughout. It sustains him, and lifts up his mood.

But Haw, the intransigent, stays behind. He gets weaker and sadder as his friend finds succor.

After some wandering, Hem arrives at another massive cache of cheese. To his surprise, the mice already present at the site.

And Hem has an epiphany here: he realizes the importance of embracing change. Inspired, he leaves notes for his friend to find, and to someday imbibe.

Key Lessons from Who Moved My Cheese

Who Moved My Cheese is a simple, concise book. It consists of less than 100 pages and it expresses its lessons in the form of Hem’s friendly tips.

I’ve summarized its four key takeaways.

1. Heed your subconscious

Of the four protagonists in Who moved my cheese, the simple-minded mice are the happiest.

Their lives were straightforward right from the get-go. They enjoyed their cheese when it was within reach. And when it disappeared, they were able to adapt quick. These simpletons found happiness even in adverse situations.

Meanwhile, the intelligent Hem and Haw suffered. When they had plenty of cheese, they spent their time scheming. And when the situation turned sour, their hopes and dreams rooted them in place.

It kept them from exploring new opportunities.

That’s why it’s important to heed your gut feelings.

It lets you reap the full benefits of a good situation. That brings you happiness that lasts, and will see you through tough times. The subconscious also allows you to detect change early and get moving.

2. Anticipate change

This is one of the most important points of our Who Moved My Cheese summary.

See, as a person grows with time, their needs, desires and expectations evolve. Maintaining the status quo is easy and convenient, but it keeps you trapped in the past.

Thus, even if everything else remains static, you yourself will change over time. Your cheese, so to speak, will keep moving.

That’s why you must be proactive about change. Always keep an open mind your eyes open and look for new opportunities.

To realize your full potential, shake things up in your life. Go apply for that new job, or take that course you saw online.

3. Appreciate change

Staying put for too long in any given situation makes life boring. Change brings back the spice in life.

For example, you get to face and overcome new challenges when you change your job. Changing your friend circle brings new perspectives into your life. And changing food habits brings good health.

Long story short, you can always find new cheese in life. If you’re feeling bored and stuck, go look for new cheese. You’ll feel better as soon as you start moving.

4. Adapt to change

Any sudden change is always jarring. You will feel out of sorts in the initial stages of an upheaval.

How soon you can make yourself productive again depends on your ability to adapt.

And the sooner you return to work, the quicker you get to win. This habit also lets you reap the rewards of compounding.

Now, you improve your adaptability through practice. This calls back the idea about being proactive. As soon you accept change to be inevitable, seeking out change becomes second nature.

That makes you more adaptable, and the process feeds on itself. You enter a positive-feedback loop of self-improvement.

You will move and so will your cheese. And together you will move forward into the life of your dreams.

Final Thoughts

I hope you liked this book summary of Who Moved My Cheese.

In this world, there can be no constants. In fact, the only guaranteed constant in life is change. Those that accept this fact will prosper. Those that resist change, will wallow in self-pity.

To avoid getting swallowed by change, you need to anticipate it. Over time, you’ll even begin to appreciate change. And that’s when you’ll achieve true freedom.

Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

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