For some time now I have been aware of an unhelpful habit I developed as a teenager. Amazingly I can remember where I was at school when I decided it was a good idea to start this habit.
The habit is to apologise with an "I'm sorry' frequently and when it is often not appropriate! It became such a strong habit that many of my sentences began with "I'm sorry'. I have written about this in a previous blog, and although I am much more aware of the need to break this habit, I could do with a bit of a reminder. Maybe you have a habit that is not so helpful that you would like to change too.We are all human and create all sorts of habits, some more useful than others.
Thanks to the neuro plasticity of our brain we are able to change our habits. Understanding, awareness and practice are needed to form more helpful ways of thinking and being. Sometimes habits become so entrenched we don't even notice we are doing them anymore. My sorry habit was just like that! With awareness we can put new healthier habits in place.
There are many times when an apology is necessary and appropriate. Times like when we have made a mistake or hurt someone in some way. As I said, being human means we hurt others, forget things, muck up, get frustrated and angry. Often an apology is both appropriate and necessary. Alison Niebes-Davis, clinical psychologist, says the main purpose of an apology is to acknowledge the action and take responsibility for the impact it has had on others. I am not talking about those times here. We will explore them more next blog!
I am talking about the times I use 'sorry' when I feel undeserving or needy of approval or to avoid feeling guilty that I have something that someone else doesn't. This automatic 'sorry' is often not appropriate or helpful. I was somewhat shocked to read back through some emails I had sent regarding necessary changes I had to make to the Thursday group schedule. They all began with a 'I'm sorry'. I am aware I can unthinkingly apologise for anything and everything and even when I am not involved!
My friend Shadi reminded me of this recently when she commented on an email I had sent her regarding the need to change a time. Amazingly my email was kind, clear and unapologetic.! I simply requested a time change that was appropriate for us both and thanked her for her understanding and flexibility. Shadi helped me to realise that with awareness I can pause and stop to think of a more appropriate response than sorry when I am late, forget something, need to request a change, make a mistake or even take up space!
Understanding that unhelpful habits can be changed and being ready to change them is the first step. We can then be aware when we have the compulsion to apologise, worry, be critical, complain, be negative, defensive or react with any other unhelpful habit. We can instead put a spanner in the works and create a helpful new response. We can use our old helpful formula of
1. Being aware of the feeling or habit (not suppressing or expression it)
2. Breathe and let it pass - asking 'what do I need?'
3. A kind response to myself and others - thank you
Shadi reminded me this over or inappropriate use of sorry can easily be replaced with a THANK YOU. This not only breaks an unhelpful habit it gives the other person something - gratitude! To assist us to decide on a kind response. Alison Niebes-Davis suggests we think about whether we want to respond so that we feel better or so the person we are connecting with feels better. A grateful thank you instead of an inappropriate sorry feels more enjoyable all around.
When I am running late my habit is to rush in with 'I'm so sorry' followed by a saga of excuses why! Instead I could be aware, breathe and respond more appropriately with a 'thank you for waiting for me'. Another example would be when I need to change an appointment my habit is to begin with "I'm sorry I need to change the appointment time because of.....' Instead I could be aware, breathe and respond more appropriately and clearly with something like..... 'something has come up and I need to change our appointment, some times that suit me are .... Please let me know what works for you. Thank you for your understanding'. This feels much better.
Other sorry replacements I have been playing with include 'excuse me please' when I bump someone or need space, and whoops I mucked up thanks for your understanding when I make a error like daylight savings time confusion!
Maybe the 'inappropriate sorry habit' is not something you need to work on. Maybe there are some other things it would be useful to bring awareness to. We can have the habit or worrying, catastrophizing, complaining, being negative, being critical or worrying about the future. Bring a sense of curiosity and fun to becoming aware of and playing with kindly changing these to more helpful new habits that will promote your happiness and peace of mind, and that of others too! I am sure I drive my friends crazy with the 'I'm sorry habit'. Resisting the urge to apologise for apologising, instead ..........Thank you for your understanding. I am a work in progress!
THANK YOU to you all! Have a great fortnight!