Anticipate Change: Why It’s a Key Step in Coping with It

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer Johnson. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Why is it so important to anticipate change? Anticipating change can help you better prepare for it, and change is a part of life.

We’ll cover why anticipating change is essential in work, life, and relationships, using the powerful strategies set out by the parable Who Moved My Cheese. Learn to anticipate change so you can better cope with it.

Anticipate Change Everywhere

Be prepared for change: Pay attention to signs of change in your environment, whether it’s layoffs at your workplace, new aches and pains, or strains in your home life. This is how to anticipate change. Consider how potential changes could affect you and develop a plan to handle them – for instance, by learning new skills.

  • In the story:  Mice Sniff and Scurry noticed the cheese stockpile getting old and dwindling. They were ready (they kept their running shoes handy) to search for a new supply when the old one disappeared. 

Don’t ignore change and wait for things to return to “normal:” When change happens, it’s natural to hope initially that things will return to the way they were. But if the world really has changed, the longer you entertain that false hope, the more difficult it will be for you to move forward again. Anticipate change and confront it.

  • In the story: Long after Sniff, Scurry, and finally Haw had moved on, Hem refused to accept that the old cheese was never coming back. He was acting against his own interests because he was growing ever hungrier while waiting for the old cheese to reappear.

Anticipate Change at Work

At work, anticipate change by paying attention to company statements, workload and structural changes, and industry trends. If you sniff out change, you can prepare for change by getting your personal finances in order, adding a part-time job, learning a new skill to develop your job in a different direction, or moving to a new company.

Don’t try to hold on to the past (don’t wait for the cheese to reappear) by ignoring warning signs, resisting new skill requirements, or by just working harder at what you know. Changing work can be scary, and it’s tempting to be in denial, but the longer you do this, the more you hurt yourself. Anticipate change at work to better prepare for it. The sooner you do this, the easier the transition will be.

The Parable of Who Moved My Cheese

The parable demonstrates the importance of anticipating change. It unfolds in a maze, where four characters — two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two tiny humans (Hem and Haw), search for cheese, which represents happiness. They get pretty good at this. The mice use their simple, rodent-specific talents of sniffing out cheese and scurrying around until they find it. Hem and Haw use their human thinking and analytical skills to also find cheese. They find a huge supply and all four enjoy its benefits for quite a while.

The mice are the best equipped at the outset, in part because they have anticipated change. 

  • They’re not surprised at the change because they noticed it happening. They stayed observant and noticed that the cheese was getting old and the pile was shrinking. They anticipated change.
  • They’re ready to act because they’ve stayed alert and anticipated change. 
  • They act quickly to adapt – they immediately put on their running shoes, which they’ve kept at the ready because they’ve anticipated change, and set out to find new cheese. 
  • They’re persistent, eventually finding a new stockpile. 
  • Even with new cheese at hand, they monitor the situation and check around for new supplies because they know things will change again.

Because he rejects change, Hem is the character most people wouldn’t want to be, but we all probably share some of his characteristics some of the time. We all fail to anticipate change, and once it starts happening, we’re often in denial about it. But the more you look for it, the better you can anticipate change.

Anticipate Change: Why It’s a Key Step in Coping with It

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  • The absolute worst thing to do when change is coming
  • How to adapt to change, like the key characters
  • How to handle change in work and life

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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