How Reframing My Apologies Made Them Stronger

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A few months ago, I embarked on a personal experiment to eliminate my excess use of “I’m sorry.”  I started because I saw a big discrepancy when asking myself the questions below:

  1. When was the last time I truly felt apologetic?
  2. When was the last time I said the words, “I’m sorry”?

The Starting Point

I made a mental note any time I used the phrase. I figured I probably said it two to three times a week. The reality? I was apologizing daily, for things both miniscule and beyond my control. I said “sorry” when my boss was late, when the elevator doors closed too fast on a coworker, and even when a high level executive bumped into me. That was a new low. At the time, I was struggling to appropriately assert myself in the workplace while still maintaining the role of “pleasant assistant.”

The Goal

I began my experiment with the hopes of altering how my superiors perceived me at work. Yes, I’m polite and yes, I’m nice. But I’m no doormat, and I didn’t want to be perceived as one professionally.

The “A-ha!” Moment

After a month of heightened apology awareness, I had a big “a-ha!” moment that seems obvious in retrospect. I realized that this experiment isn’t about shifting other people’s perceptions. Focusing on what other people thought was exhausting. I wanted to limit my unnecessary apologies because I hated how they made me feel. Besides, the way other people treat me is largely a side effect of my own, greater internal shift.

The (New) Goal

Once my motivation shifted inwards, I continued the experiment from a more energizing, self-honoring place. I was going to stop apologizing all the time so that I could feel more present, empowered and authentic in my interactions.

The Results

I now choose to respond differently based on various situations:

  • If something is outside of my control:  I simply take out the phrase. Often the sentence still sounds perfectly complete on its own.
  • If I want to do something, but can’t: I tailor my response to the situation and offer a concise explanation, instead of tossing out a blanket apology.For instance, if a coworker asks for help when I’m already slammed with a project, I’ll tell them my plate is full. I’ll say “no” to a task I don’t have the time or resources to complete, leaving off the added, guilt-inducing apology.
  • If I don’t want to do something: I politely decline without an explanation. For an invite, there’s the short-and-sweet, “No, thank you.” For something that elicits a big internal “no!” (i.e. something that feels unethical), I’ll respond with “I’d rather not” or the more assertive “I’m not comfortable with that.”
  • If I am sincerely sorry: I apologize. Saving “I’m sorry” for moments where I am truly apologetic gives my words more weight and sincerity. And sincerity feels wonderful.

The Conclusion

I've made a lot of progress, but I'm not finished yet. It’s going to take a while to fully unravel a habit I’ve had for years. It’s an ongoing experiment for sure, but one that's proving to be incredibly empowering and worthwhile.

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Megan Ladd


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