Hypotheses from Hansei in Odd Times

By Jon Miller Updated on July 10th, 2021

The  Independence Day weekend has turned into sort of a second holiday of thanksgiving for me. It’s a chance to appreciate  improving weather, fresh produce, and a moment to reflect on the last half-year.

For the past decade or so I’ve followed a twice-yearly habit of reflecting on my intentions, what I did about it, how that turned out, and what I learned. This is a form of hansei, as it’s known in lean management terms. After walking, thinking and writing down a few things, more often than not, this results in a few adjustments to my ongoing intentions.

It used to be that every six months, I would look back in amazement at how different reality was from my expectations of it the beginning of the year. The past eighteen months have adjusted our threshold of surprise and amazement for many of us. Perhaps because of this, hansei has been harder than usual. Nevertheless, here are a few resulting things that I won’t yet call insights, hypotheses waiting to be revised.

You Don’t Always Have to Raise the Bar

If I’m being honest, several of my better habits and practice routines have gone by the wayside. I’m working on reestablishing a couple of them. Others are under review. Strictly speaking, I’m off track with my personal goals in several areas. I’m not so much behind as not moving ahead as much. One could argue that in a fast-changing world, progressing slowly means slipping behind. The habits I have managed to prioritize are to safeguard what’s most important: health and family.

It’s hard to know how much of a break to give myself, given the extra burdens the last year or so of living has presented all of us. Even in normal times, many organizations and individuals overextend themselves. We try to do too much, dividing attention and resources, forcing people to context switch, and continue to juggle half-finished projects. As a result, frustration builds, and this can result in burnout. In setting intentions, I choose to be grateful instead of greedy.

The first working hypothesis for this hansei is that you don’t always have to raise the bar. Sometimes you need to check your footing, the integrity of the vaulting pole, and that the rules of the competition haven’t changed while you were busy practicing.  I’m not sure whether I’m fully sold on this hypothesis yet. It may turn out to be an excuse or a passing phase.

Where to Go When There’s No Going Back?

Another realization was that there’s no sense in trying to “rebuild” old routines or old good habits in exactly the same way. These were working because of the context of the time. Often, we struggle to maintain the “perfect” routines or habits that we set up for ourselves. We fail to recognize that not every day is exactly like the other one.

The context for our habits and routines changes over the weeks and months, sometimes day to day. Many people have the experience of interruptions to their exercise, healthy eating, or other routines during holidays or busy times of the year. We can bounce back from relatively minor interruptions such as these, as long as we set reasonable expectations.

But over longer periods of time, what we think we want, what’s good for us, and what’s possible, all of these things are constantly fluctuating in subtle ways that we may not recognize. Yet we try to stick to schedules, routines, and habits because we believe this is good. We don’t always make micro-adjustments to our routines. Only when a world-changing event or events interrupt us for an extended period of time do we have time to reflect and choose whether to try to regain what we had or build something new. Where to go when there’s no going back? Forward.

Finding the Right Gear

It’s a new feeling to be so off-target, letting some practice routines slide, leaving more capacity for just-in-case situations. It’s hard to know to what degree this is justified. Throughout 2020, there was a tension, a sense of needing to be vigilant. That’s largely gone. But what’s replaced it? Not exactly relief. The feeling of being in a mode of doing less, but feeling neither satisfied nor crisis about this, is new and odd. The pedals are turning, but not always in the right gear.

That burning smell may be from wearing out your transmission. Perhaps we’re trying too hard to find the right gear. Not to take the automobile metaphor too far, but it’s important that we check your transmission fluid, i.e. make sure you have enough slack in your life to avoid professional or personal burnout.

The working hypothesis is that this “finding the right gear” is more than a feeling, but something concrete, real, and worth paying attention to. The work ahead is to figure out what this means as a well-functioning human. It’s a process or system that I don’t quite understand. Defining “right” is maybe the tough part.

  1. Peter Ratcliffe

    August 5, 2021 - 12:38 pm

    Many thanks for sharing these helpful hypotheses, Jon!

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