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The Ancient Japanese Technique to Be a Good Writer

Ravi Rajan is a software program director who writes on varied subjects from history, archaeology to leadership and writing techniques

The Ancient Japanese Technique to Be a Good Writer

The Ancient Japanese Technique to Be a Good Writer

What Is ‘Self-Serving Bias’?

OK. Let us start with a common scenario.

You are learning to drive. You do some study, a bit of practice and then take the driver’s test and you pass the test. Hurray! Great going!

You start giving yourself reasons for your stupendous success.

“I studied hard.”

“I am actually a good driver.”

“The test was quite easy for me”

And so on……

Now, assume the case that you fail the test. What will be your reaction? It will be something like this.

“it wasn’t the car I usually drive”

“The weather was horrible.”

“I couldn’t get enough sleep last night.”

And so on….

So, do you notice our difference in attitude here due to success or failure? Psychologists call this as ‘self-serving bias’, with researchers discovering that many of us will take the credit for ourselves if things go good in life, but lay blame on circumstance when things go bad.

And as a writer, ‘self-serving bias’ is one of the worst traits you can have.

Just, think about it. The craft of writing at its best, a special kind of sinusoidal curve with few crests (read successes) spread far and wide and a lot of troughs (read failures) covering a major part of your journey.

If you just celebrate the successes while externalizing (read blaming publishers, readers, others etc.) for your failures, you are never going to improve as a writer. You will continue to live and rot under a rock, thinking that you are the best writer in the world, whereas, in reality, you might be the worst one.

And the key to success is continual improvement. The idea is not to push or hide the failures under the carpet but to embrace them, understand them, and then eliminate them.

Successful writers do this, day in and day out without fail. Remember, the issue here is not failing; the real issue here is failing to bounce back after learning from our mistakes.

And a simple productivity technique to do so is by using the Japanese technique of “Hansei” or “self-reflection”

Hansei is an action of criticizing oneself so that one understands the gap in their performance and thus corrects this in the future. Hansei is not about ‘beating yourself up.’ It’s about continuously striving to find some place where you could have improved and done better than now.

So when you have trouble achieving your goals, there is always a reason why. And Hansei is the perfect process — to help you identify these reasons, and reveal their underlying causes. Hansei is both an intellectual and emotional introspection of taking stock of the current situation and boosting your productivity level to go to the next better situation and so on……

And here are the four steps of Hansei that will make you a better writer every day.

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Dedicate Some Time for Contemplation

Dedicate Some Time for Contemplation

Dedicate Some Time for Contemplation

Hansei starts with problem recognition. We cannot find the solution for improvement unless we acknowledge that there exists a problem.

And you can only identify a problem if you devote a dedicated time for contemplation every day where you can self-reflect without disturbance. The time can be anything but what is more important is a quiet place where you can reflect on what went wrong.

This is difficult to start with as in most of the western philosophies we have been taught to ‘avoid negative thoughts’, ‘be positive’ and ‘reflect on the good things’ that happened. We have an inherent human tendency to push fears, failures, and defeats under the carpet as they emotionally create turmoil within our minds.

But constant honest self-evaluation is what you need to mature in life to succeed. If mistakes happen, and you don’t learn from them, the same mistakes will happen, again and again.

Don’t lie to yourself for fear of short-term embarrassment or discomfort, because such deception will only come back to defeat you in the end. Never believe everything is going good and you are doing good. That is fooling yourself.

Admitting and accepting the truth is an absolute necessity if you want to grow and improve in your life.

Review a Mistake or Failure Every Day

Review a Mistake or Failure Every Day

Review a Mistake or Failure Every Day

The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet we shrink away from it. Hansei tells you to pick one failure or mistake you made in your recent past. Just try to look at the experience objectively. Make a list of the key things that happened. Analyse the list step-by-step and look for the learning points.

And then, ask the following questions.

• What can I learn from this?

• What could I have done differently?

• How could you have handled it differently? With the benefit of hindsight, what different steps would you have taken?

• Do I need to acquire or improve some skills?

• Did the problem reveal some lack of skill on your part? How could you learn or improve those skills?

• Who can I learn from?

• Is there someone to whom you can turn to for advice?

• What will I do next?

Revisit your goals and objectives. This reversal or rejection has been a setback on your writing journey but think of it as a diversion rather than a halt. You can now reset your sights on your destination and plan a new course.

Remember, these questions will help to dredge up an awareness of the mistakes in your past. The daily practice of Hansei helps us to assume responsibility to see problems and keeps us open for improvements. Daily Hansei is an exercise to promote humility and be a life-long learner.

Identify Negative Habits and Eliminate Them

Identify Negative Habits and Eliminate Them

Identify Negative Habits and Eliminate Them

Hansei tells us that the root cause of all failures is that one or two mistakes we do it again and again and again unknowingly or sometimes even knowingly.

Do you have a mistake like that? Most of us do. One of the main goals of Hansei is to identify such bad habits and eliminate them.

Yes, you can’t replace a bad habit with no habit at all. That is why people who stop smoking have to substitute it with something else like chewing gum. But the good news is that it is easier to replace an old habit with a new one than it is to eliminate one altogether. Try to develop habits that work. Once the good habits are developed and established, the bad ones naturally drop by the wayside.

Courage to accept bad habits, weaknesses, or constraints unconditionally is the first step to self-reflection. We can, through deep introspection, assess our strengths and weaknesses. We can then make a list of the weaknesses that contributed to the failure to perform to the expectations.

And with these new habits in place, you get a new direction to your endeavor to accomplish your goal next time.

Think of a Better Way

Think of a Better Way

Think of a Better Way

When Japanese children do something bad, the parents say “Hansei Shinasai” or “do Hansei”. Although this is done as part of scolding, the child is also made to realize that he can improve as an individual and this is a motivation for him to do so. And this is also an opportunity for them to do things better next time.

So once you have done your self-thinking, the final step of Hansei is a course correction.

For whatever problem you’re currently facing, try to think about all of the possible future outcomes. Create a ‘what if’ scenario, and write down what will happen if these contingencies were to come to pass. Don’t just think of the positive outcomes. Be a little critical about it, and try to seek out all the things that could go wrong.

Play the devil’s advocate. Playing ‘devil’s advocate’ is to take an opposing viewpoint or raise an objection to a claim merely for the sake of argument. You do not actually have to believe what you are saying when you raise these questions or objections; you are simply arguing in order to clarify issues and generate debate. Some of the ways to be self-objective can be.

• Ask Incisive questions.

• Consider proposals from other people’s perspectives

• Pose hypothetical situations to clarify issues

• Identify hidden assumptions

• Provide evidence that fails the proposal.

Indeed, insightful course-correction is the result of Hansei — correctly applied.

Is Hansei All About “What Went Wrong”

No. Hansei is an introspection of "what went right" along with "what went wrong / what could be improved".

For instance, Toyota, The Japanese automobile giant, holds ‘Hansei-kai’ — meetings to do Hansei at the end of every project. The purpose is to learn from each other what went wrong, and what went right. These two perspectives allow an opportunity for everybody to learn. They learn from others' mistakes, and they also learn from others about how to do things right. It is a sort of a benchmarking process for continual improvement.

A word of caution; the intent of Hansei is not to find a scapegoat for your misfortunes and place the blame on others. The only intent is to make yourself self-aware of the problem, address the problem holistically, and ensure that it is not repeated again. Blaming others for your mistakes is simply self-destructive. Period.

As Douglas Copeland has rightly said.

“Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.”


  1. Hansei: Recognise Mistakes and Avoid Reoccurrence
  2. Hansei: Continuously Engaging People in Improvement
  3. Three Tips for More Effective Hansei (Reflection)
  4. Hansei: The Japanese Practice of Self-Reflection
  5. How to Implement Hansei to Encourage Self Improvement

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 26, 2021:

Thanks Linda for your comments

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 26, 2021:

I like the sound of hansei very much. I think it would be very useful for a writer. Thank you for sharing the information and the advice.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 26, 2021:

Thanks Misbah for your comments

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on April 26, 2021:

All tips and techniques you shared are very nice but this one is the best "Review a Mistake or Failure Every Day". Very nice and informative article not only for writers but for everyone. Learning is a continuous process, No doubts.

Thanks for sharing!!

Blessings always

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 25, 2021:

Thanks Flourish for your comments

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 25, 2021:

I like the idea. Thanks for covering this and for reviewing its use in different realms such as business and childhood discipline.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 25, 2021:

Thanks Lorna for your kind comments.

Lorna Lamon on April 25, 2021:

An excellent article covering points we can all relate to. I view writing as a journey of improvement without a destination.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Chirangada for your comments

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 24, 2021:

Very nice article! Self improvement is a continuous process, throughout the journey of life! This includes writing also!

Thank you for sharing!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Sukhdev for your kind comments

Sukhdev Shukla from Dehra Dun, India on April 24, 2021:

Great thoughts. Hansei can certainly be a panacea in self-improvement. Thanks for sharing, Ravi.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Peggy for your comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Devika.I am glad you found it useful.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Bill for your comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 24, 2021:

Becoming a better writer takes time and effort. It is a continual learning process. I enjoyed your analogy of passing a driver's test.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 24, 2021:

Thank you Ravi useful and for writers and writers need an inspiration.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 24, 2021:

The key to success is continued true for a true for a human being. :)

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks John for your comments

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 24, 2021:

Good article and tips, Ravi. Thank you for sharing.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

The Ancient Japanese Technique to Be a Good Writer

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh for your comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Liz for your comments. Glad you liked it.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 24, 2021:

I believe taking note of mistakes made, and asking questioins why and how improves one's ability, skill, bent, and so on. In addition success when let to run into the head cause nothing other than failure. They seem to be both side of the coin. An interesting and though provokating read. Thanks.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 23, 2021:

You make some interesting points in this helpful article. Your driving test analogy was especially relatable and a great introduction to the topic.

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