Have you ever read the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Dr Spencer Johnson?

It’s the story of 4 characters – Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw – who live in a maze. The thing they have in common is that they all love cheese and, for a while, life feels pretty good because their supply of cheese is plentiful.

When they wake up one day to discover that the cheese has disappeared, life doesn’t feel so good any more. Their reactions to this change in circumstances are very different.

Sniff and Scurry respond enthusiastically and head further into the maze to search for new cheese that they’re sure must be out there.

On the other hand, Hem and Haw first of all can’t believe that their supply of cheese has gone, then feel betrayed and start complaining. They waste their time and energy hoping the cheese will return and carry on doing the same things they’ve done every day, expecting that this is an unpleasant but temporary blip.

The writing’s on the wall

After some time, Haw realises the cheese probably isn’t going to come back so he sets out to find new cheese. As he travels, he thinks of his friend Hem and hopes that he’ll follow one day. So he writes what he learns on the walls, hoping that Hem will see it and the trail of learnings he’s left for him. His journey isn’t in vain and eventually he discovers new cheese. More than that, he finds that his old friends Scurry and Sniff are there too and have been for some time. The new supply of cheese is plentiful; however they have all learned that if it runs out, they can simply set off again in search of more.

It doesn’t take too much thinking to work out that the cheese is a metaphor for what we want to have in life, the maze is where we find it, and the story is about our reaction to change.  Sniff and Scurry embrace it enthusiastically and don’t let a big change affect their belief and positivity. They quickly find another path and more of what they desire in life.

Hem and Haw react negatively to the change. Haw eventually realises that to find more of what he wants, he needs to change what he’s doing, Hem stays locked in his familar place and patterns of behaviour.

Sniff, Scurry and Haw adapt to the situation and change themselves. Hem fails to change and hopes the situation will adapt to him.

The book is all about finding more of the same – more cheese in this case – which could stand for money, health, relationships, a career. And the cheese is seen as a good thing that they want to find again.

Knowing what you want

What if the story was changed so that the old cheese is not necessarily what they want or something positive in their lives? Sure, it’s familiar and it sustains them in some way, yet is it the right thing for them? What if the cheese is gained through negative habits and thinking? What if the cheese is holding them back in some way from achieving a better life?

Yet instead of looking for something different, they carry on in the same way day after day, looking for the cheese and thinking that’s all there is to life. They don’t realise that they can find new cheese, swap the cheese for something else, or move to a different maze altogether.

Ultimately, the book is about changing ourselves and our situation.

How many times in real life are we faced with things that we want or need to change? Yet so often we behave in a Haw way, held back by fear and limiting beliefs; or like Hem, unable to change in any way.

We tread the same paths in our personal maze every day, doing what we’ve always done without necessarily consciously thinking about whether it’s what we want or how to change it.  These paths become well-worn, like the neural pathways in our minds. They’re familiar habits and often ones that we find difficult to break. We put blocks in our way. Sometimes we ourselves are the blocks.

The map is not the territory

How would it feel if you knew that there was an unlimited supply of cheese (or whatever it is that you really want from life), and more than one maze to explore?

It brings to mind one of the presuppositions of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP): that the map is not the territory. In others words, our map – our model of reality – is not the same as reality itself. We all configure our maps slightly differently so no two maps are the same. We apply our values, beliefs, thoughts, emotions and actions to create our own view of the world. And our view of the world can never represent the whole territory because we filter out so much (that may or may not form part of other peoples maps).

It stands to reason that to change our map, we need to change at least some of our values, beliefs, thoughts, emotions and actions. And if we change our map – or maze – then we can recognise that finding new paths to explore and new cheeses is a whole lot easier than we thought.

What if Hem and Haw had behaved more like Sniff and Scurry?

What if they’d embraced the change as something exciting and an opportunity to seek out new things?

What if they’d taken the chance to check in with themelves to see if they were living according to their values?

What if they’d believed that the change woud be positive?

What if they’d taken the change as a sign that their map – their part of the maze – was not the whole territory?

Wouldn’t things have been so much better for them?

‘The map is not the territory’ is just one of the presuppositions that you learn about when you opt to study NLP. If you’d love to learn more, please check out my list of courses and open the door today to a whole new world.