The owl and the cheese

Update: the gray hair saga continues
November 15, 2020
Deep breath + podcast break
November 29, 2020

The owl and the cheese

Imagine you’re given a piece of paper with a maze on it. In one corner, there’s a picture of a cartoon mouse. Your goal is to get the mouse from one end of the maze to the other.

Go with me on this… this is a real research study that was actually conducted.

In one version of the maze, there’s a cartoon owl at the top of the page, hunting the mouse. In another version, there’s a block of cheese awaiting the mouse at the end.

You and the other participants are each given only one version of the maze to complete.

So which group completed the maze faster? The ones who were moving the mouse towards the cheese? Or the ones who were escaping the owl?

The group with the cheese.

The participants who moved the mouse towards the cheese had a higher percentage finishing the maze, and when they did finish it, they did it faster than the owl group.

Even though neither the mouse, owl, or cheese were real, participants were more successful when their imaginations thought they were going towards a reward than when they were fleeing a threat.

As Dr. Emily Nagoski offers in her book, Burnout, “It makes perfect sense when you think about it. If you’re moving toward a specific, desired goal, your attention and efforts are focused on that single outcome. But if you’re removing away from a threat, it hardly matters where you end up, as long as it’s somewhere safe from the threat.”

Here’s one way I see this.

[big sigh]

It’s been a shitty year.

Now that the holidays are approaching, our thoughts naturally turn to the start of a new year. And I know we’re all hoping that next year is better than this one.

Of course, the assumption being that as we flip that metaphorical page of the calendar and start a new page, things in our lives will naturally get better.

But here’s the thing. We can’t make 2021 better if we’re only trying to get away from the dumpster fire that was 2020. We can’t make 2021 a better year if we’re only running from the owl.

We make 2021 a better year when we run towards the cheese.

So my question to you is: what’s your cheese?

Maybe it’s beating this year’s revenue number because this was a weird year for your business.

Maybe it’s being able to finally get with the clients who value your work and can pay you more because, if this year has proven anything, it’s that life’s too short to work with crap clients.

Maybe it’s finally starting your consulting business so you can stop working remotely in a job you hate, and start having more flexibility.

Maybe it’s finally being able to put yourself out there to get new clients because networking and the chance referral don’t work in this environment.

Name your cheese, and then put it in the forefront of your mind. Put it on a Post-It. Or simply close your eyes and visualize it every morning.

If you’d like, write back to this email and let me know what your cheese is.

Whatever it is, you can get there. But you won’t get there by running away from the owl. You’ll get there by running towards the cheese.

To your success,


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