Think Thrice Before Acting
Originally the term referred to taking action only after having reflected thrice. This is a kind of attitude handling things too cautiously. An appropriate measure of reflection is a prerequisite for proper speech and action, but if one becomes too cautious, then hesitation and doubt easily arise in the mind, affecting the observance of morality in the face of personal gain. The Analects records that Ji Wenzi, a senior official of the State of Lu, “acted having reflected thrice.” Confucius thought that it would suffice if Ji reflected twice and that there was no need to reflect three times. When people later used the expression “thinking thrice before acting,” they weakened the meaning of being too cautious, and just used it to urge caution when acting. They stressed that one should carefully reflect before speaking or acting so as to be in conformity with accepted moral standards.
Ji Wenzi acted after having reflected thrice. When Confucius heard it, he remarked, “Twice is sufficient.” (The Analects)