Naikan and Three Questions

Our world has become such a rush! We jump from one thing to the next. We are trying to manage meetings, work schedules, kids, spouses, and a myriad of other things that demand our attention and efforts. The stress of daily life is taking its toll on us physically, emotionally, and mentally. The ability to step back and reflect is more crucial than ever before in our world. The Japanese have a psychology called Naikan that challenges an individual to self-reflect.

The idea is based on the psychology of action, which means doing things you can control and letting go of things you cannot control. We live in a complaint-based life. We complain about people, work, situations, the world, and even the drive to work. Where you focus is where your mind is. When we think and talk negatively, guess what you become – negative. The challenge in the modern world is changing how we see things—where we focus.


Naikan asks three simple questions that cause us to reflect on how we see the world and how we think and see ourselves. Here are the basic tenets of Naikan:

1. ) Question one: What have I received from someone? The idea is to start with gratitude. Some reflective processes ask you to list things like the air, electricity, a car, or a home, which are all good, but a little too general. Naikan asks you to think specifically about what someone has done for you the previous day and then thank them for it. 

A great example is when I thank my wife for cooking a healthy meal, sharing a long conversation after dinner, or picking up chai tea for me when she makes a coffee run. The concept is to be appreciative of very specific things people have done for you.

2.) Question two: What have I given to someone? What have you done for someone else yesterday or today? Just like making the list of things people have done for you, make a list specifically of the things you have done for other people. What I have found is that I receive more than I give. There is an imbalance. The second thing a person begins to realize is how interdependent we are with each other. “No man is an island unto himself.” We are connected.

3.) Question three: What troubles and difficulties did I cause? Ouch! This is a hard question and one that requires honest assessment. This third question is the question most people don’t want to deal with or think about. How has my selfish action made it difficult for someone else? What trouble have I caused people around me? I know when I worked through this process, it made me uncomfortable. Question three can take up to 60% of your time answering of the three questions.

So, if you have gotten into the practice of complaining about everything and are rushing from one thing to the next, try the Naikan method and its three core questions. It can change your perspective on the world and develop a more balanced look at life, with a lot more gratitude.