My husband, Jared and I could give the most polite Canadians around a run for their money when it comes to saying, “Sorry!” for things about which we have absolutely no business apologizing.
(Video not playing? Check it out here. You won’t be — wait for it — sorry.)
You’re hungry? I’m sorry.
You don’t feel like working out? Sorry.
A bad driver cut you off on your drive home? I’m so sorry.
You want to go to a party and I’d prefer to stay home and read? Sorryyyy!
The thing is, I honestly do feel … well, if not “sorry,” exactly, some feeling resembling regret or sorrow in each of these scenarios. I want everyone in my life to be happy and have nice things and do all the things that make them smile, you know?
But incessant apologizing doesn’t actually help anybody. In my case, it really became an empty gesture — more of a reflex than anything else, and if there was any doubt in my mind whether this was the case, it was made clear when I would find myself actually annoyed at my poor husband for saying, “Sorry!” to me when I’d complain about things like a meeting going long or my struggle to meet a deadline. I would snap back at him, saying, “What are you sorry about? There is literally no reason for you to be sorry.”
(I’m a constant delight, I realize. But we all need a wake up now and again, and learning that one of my most common behaviors was a total pain in the ass? Definite alarm for me.)
At the same time as this realization, I caught this piece on Bored Panda and had about 50 lightbulbs go off above my head. What is it that I really mean when I constantly say, “I’m sorry”? So, in true Fit Bottomed spirit, I started digging in to find my why, and learned that I could sort the instances in which I tend to apologize into three sections:
- Things for which I’m truly sorry
- Things about which I feel bad, but saying, “Sorry,” doesn’t help the situation or convey the right emotion
- Things for which I’m not at fault and don’t actually feel sorry
And here’s how I’m revamping my “I’m sorry” habit in each case.
When I really should (or really should not) apologize…
I mean, it’s a fact that there are times when I’ve done something for which I should apologize. Like, if I step on your foot by accident, or I have to back out of giving you a ride somewhere? I’ll apologize. And I’ll mean it with my whole heart.
And in those occasions when saying “Sorry,” was truly nothing more than a reflex, like when my husband would complain about being stuck in traffic, or a friend would be concerned about a large and unexpected bill? I’m finding that acknowledging their sucky situation — “Traffic is such a bummer!” “Gosh, that bill is really high!” — feels far more authentic. If there’s something I can do to help, I offer, but if not, simply empathizing (without bringing any feelings of guilt or responsibility into it) is totally sufficient.
When I do feel sorry, but there’s more to it …
If I’m late, or I invited you for dinner and made a dish you don’t like, or I’m not available to feed your cat when you go out of town, there’s absolutely a part of me that feels bad about that. However, I can also look at each of those situations and find a deeper feeling that I can express, either in place of or in addition to the sentiment of sorriness:
- I’m late: Thanks for waiting so patiently and being flexible!
- I cooked something you hate: I appreciate you being open to trying new things. Let’s order a pizza — and you pick the toppings!
- I can’t feed your cat: It means a lot to me that you’d trust me with your beloved kitty. Thanks for asking, and I’m in next time. Can I give you the number for my pet sitter?
Do you see how that creates a totally different dynamic? It’s friendlier, for sure, and feels so much more positive. Instead of breaking myself down, this kind of interaction builds the other person up.
And that’s not the only benefit. Jared and I have been focusing on this for a couple of months now, and it turns out that, the more you focus on finding reasons to be grateful, the more grateful you naturally become. (Funny how that works, huh?) Rather than one of us feeling kind of bad about something trivial, we automatically look at what we can be thankful for in one another given the situation — and it’s rarely too hard to find something.
Now, while we sometimes joke a bit and find ourselves really stretching for a reason to be grateful, we really do focus most of the time on making this an exercise in authentic gratitude — and, for that matter, just tuning into our authentic feelings and reactions. It’s some fascinating stuff — and it’s only improved our relationship with one another and our relationships with those around us.
So, what do you think? Will you try ditching the superfluous sorries? —Kristen