How to Thank More and Apologize Less

I am a sorry-holic. I’m not sure how this happened but I will apologize for just about anything. If someone is late for my class, I’ll say, “Sorry, but we had to start.”If my husband is explaining the timeline for the reconstruction of our house, I’ll say, “I’m sorry, but I need you to explain the process again.” If someone accidentally bumps into me, I’ll say “Sorry.” There may be some legitimate things I need to apologize for, like missing a payment or deadline I committed to. But I do not need to take responsibility for everything that goes wrong in the world. Even if it’s just in my world.

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I recently read this Lifehacker article by Patrick Allan called “How to Stop Apologizing for Everything You Do.” I suddenly realized that I was an over-apologizer. There are a lot of us out there. I love this one sentence: “It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you keep falling on a sword that shouldn’t come out of its sheath in the first place.” I’ve been impaled for decades. Time to put that sword back in its sheath.


So here is how I’ve worked on putting the sword back:


  • Admit I have a problem. I need to own it to be able to change it. I’ve started noticing how often I apologize. I almost feel like having a sorry jar. When my kids were little, we had a jar for anytime anyone cussed. Our neighbor Mr. Fred kept that jar pretty full. So maybe I need to put a dollar in a jar every time I say sorry.


  • Notice how you feel. Every time I apologize, I feel just a little bit diminished. Like my thoughts, feelings, rights just don’t matter as much as everyone else. That’s crazy. Of course, my thoughts, feelings and rights matter as much as anyone else. Apologizing all the time is making me feel small. When I even catch myself one time not apologizing, I feel a little bigger. More confident. Less marginalized.


  • Work thank you into your language. There is a great cartoon by Yao Xiao. Each pane shows a way to work Thanks instead of Sorry into your language. I love the one that says Thank you for your patience instead of Sorry I’m always late. What’s interesting is that the person receiving the thank you feels better than if they receive the apology. What a terrific reframe. This is so much more positive than the apology. It’s a win-win.


  • Catch yourself doing something right. I burnt the bacon yesterday. It was perfect today. As Julia Child famously said, “You should never apologize at the table.” So I ate the bacon and didn’t say a word. This morning I said, “Hey, this is perfect.” My husband agreed. Instead of falling on the sword yesterday, I owned the better outcome today. Take credit when you do something right instead of dwelling on what went wrong.


  • Slow and steady wins the race. As I have experienced over the last week since trying to change my default language, don’t get self-critical if you let a few apologies slip.  It’s OK. Habit change is tough and requires working on one or two little pieces at a time. I have tried to thank more, which usually makes apologizing unnecessary.


Keep track today. See if you are being impaled on a regular basis. Keep that sword in its sheath.

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