This year, I decided not to set myself goals but to focus on doing a series of 30-day challenges to explore different skills and projects I’m interested in. Some are based around creative projects (like learning hand lettering), others are more to do with self-improvement. One of my personal growth challenges is to improve my verbal tics. I have a lot of verbal tics that I’m not especially happy with. Like, you know, basically, um, all the time? One of the verbal tics I’m working on this year is saying sorry when I don’t need to.
Sorry is a word that can be a gateway to connection and vulnerability in relationships. It can carry relief, deepen intimacy and pave the way to mutual understanding and compassion. But I feel it loses much of that power when it becomes a habitual and reactive throwaway phrase, rather than a conscious choice of words.
Alternatives to saying “Sorry”
When it comes to my superfluous use of sorry, most times I need not say anything at all. Instead of saying “Sorry” when I need to squeeze past someone in the supermarket, I’m trying to say “Excuse me.” Instead of saying “Sorry, can I ask you a question?” I’m practising saying “Hi! Can I ask you a question?”
Other times, I can substitute sorry for something more accurate (and, in some cases, meaningful). Most importantly, I’m trying to break the habit of saying “Sorry” when I mean “Thank you.” Instead of saying “Sorry that took so long,” I’m saying “Thank you for being patient.” Instead of “Sorry for bending your ear about this,” I want to say “Thank you for listening.” Of course, there are still times when I need to apologise and doing so is important when it’s due. But thinking about this has been a useful exercise in deciding for myself: what warrants an apology? And in which situations am I apologising when I mean to express gratitude?
The inspiration for this comes from a cartoon by illustrator Yao Xiao that shows how this small and seemingly insignificant change can make a big difference to our daily interactions:
I’m still working on this but I hope that kicking this habit is going to help me be a better communicator all round. Rather than needlessly making these interactions all about me (and the ways I think I’ve messed up), the idea of focusing on what I appreciate about that other person in the moment feels a little kinder, a little less self-involved, and lighter all around.
Do you find yourself saying “sorry” when you really mean “thank you?” How do you stay mindful of this habit? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Image: Claudel Rheault