Updated: Nov 5
Rapidly accepting what has changed will help you adapt and prepare to thrive in the new normal. Avoid unnecessary delay and missed opportunity by focusing on what you can control that matters, not on what you can’t control and what doesn’t matter.
The quicker you accept change, the sooner you can start looking for new opportunities
One of the most influential books I read as a young adult was the classic Who Moved my Cheese? By Spencer Johnson. The book tells the tale of four characters moving through a maze, looking for cheese (which represents what you want). The four characters are Hem and Haw (humans), and Sniff and Scurry (mice). Hem and Haw have human tendencies such as overthinking things. Sniff and Scurry do not and are focused on action.
When the cheese station they found runs out of cheese, Sniff and Scurry immediately recognize there is no more cheese and they set back out into the maze. Hem and Haw stay behind, complaining and waiting for someone else to put their cheese back.
This book helped me prepare mentally for a change I did not foresee: the dot-com bubble. I started my career at Electronic Arts in 1994 as a 15-year old kid. I thought I would be a lifer at EA, but in October 2000, after nearly seven years, I left to go to a startup. Four months later, I was laid off from the startup, along with everyone else.
I left EA in October 2000 at the height of the dot-com bubble
I was able to rapidly see that my cheese had moved. I know that spending any time blaming anyone else for what was happening to me was a waste of valuable energy.
This allowed me to quickly focus on what I could control and what matters, and not spend time complaining and focusing on what I couldn’t control. When I suddenly had no job and struggled to find work along with many other tech professionals, I started focusing on physical health, professional development, and improving relationships.
Side note: Later in life I was incredibly surprised to learn that the author of Who Moved my Cheese?, Spencer Johnson, also co-authored the ValueTales series of books I loved as a child in the 1980s. I still have those books today and read them to my three boys.
Andrew, Sidney, Desmond and their cousin Carson reading. Full disclosure: I bribed them with 15 minutes of extra screen time to sit still for this photo
Focusing on what you can’t control wastes time and effort
Hem and Haw waste an incredible amount of time and effort focusing on what they can’t control: waiting for someone else to put the cheese back in their station. The cheese does matter to them, so in my Zones of Control matrix below, they are spending too much time in the Know What’s Happening Zone.
The Zones of Control
The Know What’s Happening Zone is essential because what you can’t control here does matter to you. The best thing to do in this zone is to stay informed, but not to obsess over what is happening.
During the current coronavirus crisis, many people are spending far too much time obsessing over the news, which defaults to sensational and negative stories. Productive people spent time checking the news once or twice a day to stay informed and extrapolate what matters. Then they spent the rest of their productive time in the Critical Focus Zone.
The Zone of Irrelevance is to be avoided at all costs. Things happening here do not matter to you, and you have no control anyway.
An example of what happens here is what I call “low-grade bonding.” People gather around the proverbial office water cooler or on the Internet and complain about things they have no control over, and which also don’t matter. They are (knowingly or not) dragging you into the downward spiral Benjamin Zander talks about in his excellent book The Art of Possibility. Get out of this downward spiral rapidly.
Focusing on what you can control that matters will accelerate your transition to the best new normal
The best thing you can do to set yourself up for the new normal is to focus on what you can control that matters. I call this the Critical Focus Zone.
Human beings are creatures of habit. We often keep doing the same thing over and over, just because it’s the way it has always been done. Detach and focus on what you can control that matters. Download my complimentary Zones of Control exercise to take stock of what is in each zone for you right now, then shift your focus to the Critical Focus Zone.
“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them” - Epictetus
Avoid the Zone of Time-wasting Traps, where you have control, but things don’t matter. This is the most dangerous zone because you have control over things that don’t matter. Jeff Goldblum’s character in the original Jurassic Park movie, Dr Ian Malcolm, said of the process to bring Dinosaurs back to life:
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
What to do next
Accept that things have changed and will continue to change. If you want to maximize your chances of creating an amazing new normal, don’t be Hem and Haw. Rapidly accept what has changed, focus on what you can control that matters, and avoid the zone of time-wasting traps. Download and complete my complimentary Zones of Control exercise.