Most human beings loathe change. In a 2010 study conducted at the University of Arkansas, researchers led five experiments that demonstrated that people overwhelmingly found older objects or behaviors to be preferable to new ones, that longevity is a key factor, often unconsciously, when we evaluate the value of something.
“The length of time something has been established seems to serve as a cue to its goodness. The longer a policy, medical practice, painting, tree or consumer good was said to exist, the more favorably it was evaluated,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, where the study was published.
How We Attach Ourselves to Things
Remember the protest of the American public when the New Coke came out?
Gizmodo contributor Andrew Tarantola explains the psychology of brands in his blog Why We Hate Change:
Once we form emotional connections with a brand, even if it’s as benign as associating it with “quality,” that brand can take on a life of its own… By projecting human traits and cultural ideals onto the brand, people form deeper emotional associations with the product, making them more likely to purchase it again.
Keep in mind we’re talking about a beverage.
What about relocating across the country, trying out a new profession, going back to school, sending a child off to college, or breaking up with a partner we’ve been with for years?
No wonder why our brains crave what is familiar, even if it’s not good for us.
Who Moved My Cheese?
Twelve years ago I participated in an outpatient depression program at Laurel Regional Hospital.
The story is about two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two “Littlepeople,” Hem and Haw, who live in a maze of cheese stations, some filled with cheese and others empty. When Cheese Station C runs out of cheese, the two mice immediately search the maze for other cheese stations, while Hem and Haw overanalyze their situation, convinced that one day the old cheese will return to Station C if they keep on going there.
Haw eventually leaves Station C, realizing he’s going to starve if he doesn’t start looking for a new station. Along the way he writes messages on the wall like “Movement In A New Direction Helps You Find New Cheese” and “The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese,” which serve to motivate him in his search for new cheese and to remind him that going back isn’t the solution; they are also markings for his buddy, Hem, should he decide to follow.
After a little while in the maze, Haw stumbles on a station with a few chunks of new cheese. Even though the types of cheese are strange-looking, like nothing he has ever seen before, he immediately devours them. He puts a few pieces in his pocket to take back to his buddy, Hem, who is still stuck in Station C.
As stubborn as he is starving, Hem turns down Haw’s offer of cheese.
“I want my own cheese back,” he says.
“Suit yourself,” Haw says, as he begins to let go of the past (good times at Station C) and adapt to the present. He inscribes the maze wall with more bits of wisdom, like “Noticing Small Changes Early Helps You Adapt To The Bigger Changes That Are To Come.”
Finally Haw discovers Cheese Station N, the tallest mound of cheese he had ever seen, where his mouse friends Sniff and Scurry welcome him and invite him to eat from the abundant supply. Their full bellies tell Haw that they have been there awhile.
On the largest wall of Cheese Station N, Haw draws a large piece of cheese around all the insights he has gained. They are:
- Change Happens. They Keep Moving The Cheese.
- 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 Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese.
- Change. Move With The Cheese.
- Enjoy Change! Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste of New Cheese!
- Be Ready to Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again and Again. They Keep Moving the Cheese.
Don’t Be Hem
The story made a profound impact on me at the time since, like the mice and the little people, I felt lost in a maze, clinging to old patterns of thoughts and behaviors that were contributing to my depression. It felt scary to choose a different path because I had no way of knowing if it was going to lead to some good cheese, to moldy cheese, or to no cheese at all.
I decided to take the risk, though.
I left the doctor I was working with, even though he was familiar and comfortable. I tried new treatments and different approaches to cognitive behavioral therapy. I tried to keep an open mind to various tools of recovery, even though some of it was overwhelming and confusing.
Right then and there I decided I didn’t want to be like Hem, letting stagnation and cowardice lead me to my demise.
The cheese moves everyday. Most of us are forced to make some kind of adjustment during each 24 hours.
We can resist.
Or we can keep moving with the cheese.