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Don’t Hem And Haw: Takeaways From Who Moved My Cheese


I read this great little story titled Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D..  It is a short story about four mice named Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw.  Does that “Hem and Haw” sound kinda familiar?  I bet it does.  Have you ever told someone, “Don’t hem and haw over it.  Just do it?”  Now it may be ringing a bell.  This great little book takes these four mice and shows their four different characters in a fun to read story about changes in life. 

Here are what I believe to be the important takeaways from the story.

Characters & What They Represent

The four mice in the book are named after four different types of people in a funny way to characterize how we look at life and what we do.  Here are the four names of the mice and what they represent:

  • Sniff – sniffs out change early
  • Scurry – scurries into action quickly
  • Hem – denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse
  • Haw – learns to adapt in time when seeing change can lead to something better

These clever names represent how we look for and respond to change.  In the story, the mice are striving for cheese.  They want an abundance of cheese so they can stay where they are and get fat.  Does this sound familiar?  Aren’t we all after the cheese???

What’s The Cheese???

The cheese is a metaphor for what we want in life.  It could be that great job, a great relationship, or that nice house.  “Gotta go make some cheese” is a common saying used to describe going to make money.  No matter who you are or what your motivation is, we are all after some cheese.  The challenge is that the cheese is not always right in our face.  We have to work our way towards it.

The Maze

In the story, the mice end up running low on cheese at their current location.  The challenge is that they have to go through this dark maze in hopes of finding another source of cheese somewhere.  The maze in the story represents where you spend your time looking for what you want.  This could be an organization you work in, the community you live in, or the relationships you have in your life.  There are no guarantees, and the journey is scary.  

What Do You Do When You Are Afraid?

The four mice in the story respond to the fear of the unknown in four different ways based upon what their name represents.  Sniff is always thinking ahead, planning and preparing for change.  Scurry quickly jumps feet first in and takes the fear head on.  Hem denies there is even a problem and tends to resist any change as he is afraid it will lead to worse things.  Haw eventually comes around once he sees that change can lead to something even better.

There is nothing wrong with being afraid.  The problem is when we are so afraid that we hem and haw over the problem and don’t take any action.  Though we may hem and haw over something, eventually we come around to doing what is necessary.  I guess we figure out that it is safer to search a maze of unknown rather be stuck in a cheeseless situation.

Overcome The Fear

Since fear is one of the biggest deterrents to change, we have to overcome it and embrace the necessary change.  We need to realize that, most of the time, what we are afraid of is never as bad as we imagined.  By focusing on the fear, we tend to build it up in our mind and make the situation worse than it actually is.  One of the fastest ways to change is to laugh at your mistakes.  By laughing at your mistakes, you can let tiny setbacks go and more quickly move on.  When you change what you believe, you can change what you do.   Most of the time, the handwriting is on the wall.

The Handwriting On The Wall

The story really presents these great metaphors with cheese, life, and how we look at change.  Here is what we have to realize and do:

  • Change Happens – The cheese will keep moving.
  • Anticipate Change – Get ready for the cheese to move.
  • Monitor Change – Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.
  • Adapt to Change Quickly – The quicker you let go of the old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy the new cheese.
  • Change – Move with the cheese.
  • Enjoy Change – Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of the new cheese.
  • Be Ready to Change Quickly and Enjoy It Again and Again – The cheese will keep moving.

Final Thoughts

This was a great story that uses the metaphor of mice adapting to changes in the cheese supply like we adapt to changes in our life.  There are four typical ways we respond: sniff out change early; scurry into action; hem (deny/resist) the change; and haw (eventually learn to adapt).  Your cheese is always moving.  Don’t be like Hem and Haw, waiting and waiting to take action.  Be like Sniff and Scurry, expecting change to come and jumping into action.  The handwriting on the wall breaks it down simply for you.  Understand what this little story is trying to tell you and look at your life.  Which mouse are you?  Do you need to make a change?

Whatever you do, don’t hem and haw over the answer!!!

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