The Art of Hansei — How the Japanese philosophy of self-reflection can improve your life

Self-awareness is one of the best ways to improve or make progress — it’s a must for anyone interested in growing, personally and professionally.

Hansei is a Japanese word meaning “self-reflection”, or “introspection”. It’s a fundamental part of Japanese culture. It is both an intellectual and emotional introspection.

It’s similar to the German proverb Selbsterkenntnis ist der erste Schritt zur Besserung, where the closest translation to English is “Insight into oneself is the first step to improvement”.

Hansei also incorporates the concept of greeting success with modesty and humility. To stop Hansei means to stop learning. With hansei, one never becomes convinced of one’s own superiority, and feels that there is always more room, or need, for further improvement.”

Most people don’t engage in self-reflection often enough — they don’t consider it a tool worthy enough to be used consistently to improve their lives.

Generally, when people fall short of their expectations, they don’t make enough time to think deeply about what went wrong and what can be changed or done better next time.

Whatever the outcome of your goals (success or failure), there’s always a gap that demands a better understanding of the processes that led to the outcome.

“Hansei is used not only when things fail but also when they succeed. Anything can be made better and more efficient,” writes Kaki Okumura. “Hansei is meant to question our assumptions about the kind of control we have over our lives and grants us the power to be better,” Kaki says.

Self-reflection in life and career can help you learn more about yourself, your processes, systems and practices — ii you want to get better, that is.

Hansei implies that nobody and nothing is perfect and it’s considered a valuable tool for growth in Japan. This philosophy is practiced in almost all levels of in Japanese society — it’s a vital part of learning and improving.

Hansei is taught in schools and has been traditionally considered a fundamental skill that promotes a child’s social and personal development.

“In Japan, when someone makes a mistake, they will profusely apologize, take responsibility, and propose a solution for how they can prevent the same mistake from happening in the future,” writes Tim McMahon.

Hansei is practiced regularly, as a discipline, irrespective of an outcome. Hansei in business is a rigorous review process.

At Toyota, hansei is a pre-requisite for learning: “Even if a task is completed successfully, Toyota recognises the need for a hansei-kai, or reflection meeting; a process that helps to identify failures experienced along the way and create clear plans for future efforts. An inability to identify issues is usually seen as an indication that you did not stretch to meet or exceed expectations, that you were not sufficiently critical or objective in your analysis, or that you lack modesty and humility. Within theprocess, no problem is itself a problem.”

Hansei suggests that we all have flaws and weaknesses, otherwise our ability to continuously improve will be at a disadvantage. Hansei is accepting and exploring our uncomfortable personal truths, admitting our mistakes with the intent to improve. It’s deeply reflective and deeply human.

How to practice Hansei

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man being unable to sit quietly in a room alone.” — Blaise Pascal

To practice Hansei or make the most it, schedule it on your calendar. Make time for it. You can set aside about 5 or 15 minutes every week if you can’t do it every day. Hansei can be a daily or weekly journaling experience.

You can experiment with weekly weekend hansei in an effort to align your efforts and actions to your goals and values or correct direction more frequently.

Daily practice of hansei can help you assume responsibility of your actions and keep you open for improvements. It can also help you introspect about “what went right” along with “what went wrong / what could be improved”.

The process of writing things down requires an honest acknowledgement of your uncomfortable truth — your personal struggles, mistakes you keep making and the path you should be taking next time.

Keep it short and from the heart. Hansei is meant to help you get your thoughts and actions better aligned by making them more visible to yourself.

Reflecting on your actions, habits and emotional responses naturally leads to self-control, the effectiveness of your planning processes and use of your unlimited time and energy better.

Use the art of hansei to surprise yourself and create more opportunities for personal growth. Self-introspection & feedback are a hugely important part of personal progress & development.