In the 1970’s, Werner Erhard was a very powerful student and teacher of change. In his well-known est seminars, Erhard strove to point out how powerfully conditioning affects our ability to understand and successfully manage change.
In his presentations, Erhard developed a signature story about mice and cheese that perfectly illustrated this difference.
As Werner Erhard told it, a group of scientists conducted an experiment with a mouse. They didn’t feed the little thing for twenty-four hours and then put it in an opening in front of five tunnels.
They placed some cheese down tunnel number three. The mouse could smell it, but didn’t know which tunnel contained it. He went down tunnel one, then tunnel five, and then finally down tunnel three. The mouse got his fill of the cheese, came back out and was put away for another twenty-four hours.
The next morning they put the cheese in tunnel three and the mouse again went down several wrong tunnels before finding it. After seven or eight days, the mouse learned, and went straight down tunnel number three.
After a couple of months, they moved the cheese to a different tunnel. The next morning, the mouse went down tunnel number three. He because frustrated upon finding no cheese, eventually came out, and went down a few tunnels before finding the cheese in tunnel number one.
The scientists continued to place the cheese in tunnel number one. It only took the mouse a few days to realize that they had moved the cheese. It stopped going down tunnel number three and began to go down tunnel number one.
But as Erhard explained, the difference between the mouse and most of us is that even though the cheese has been moved from tunnel three to tunnel number one, we will persist in going down tunnel number three.
If we don’t find the cheese, we become agitated, frustrated and anxious. We feel that if we complain loudly enough, they will move the cheese back to tunnel number three. The truth is, we can gripe all we want; they aren’t moving the cheese back.