I have said sorry 67 times today. Recipients of my apologies have included friends, an editor, a guy I'm messaging on Tinder, a barista who messed up my coffee order, and, after it clattered loudly to the floor, my hair-dryer.
In a city like New York, where everyone is jostling for space, attention, and Cronuts, "sorry" has become a catchall term that can mean anything from "Get out of my way!" to "Yup, I grabbed the last Alexander Wang for H&M dress a second before you." But useful as it may seem, an overactive sorry reflex carries a ton of downsides. "When you're constantly apologizing, it can make you appear incompetent to outsiders," warns Melody Wilding, LMSW, a Manhattan-based therapist. "But it can also shatter your self-image. Instead of focusing on what your needs are, you're focused on the needs and perceptions of others."
So I decide to stop for a week.
At first it's awkward. I have to bite my tongue when I can't find exact change for my coffee in the morning. When I see I've failed to respond to a text from a friend that arrived overnight, my first impulse is to write, "Sorry, just saw this!" But I don't—and my friend doesn't seem to notice or care. Turns out that my tendency to start conversations this way in the past has saddled simple exchanges with guilt and obligation. And while sometimes subway jostling does call for a quick "Sorry!" more often than not, the urge to apologize strikes when someone bumps into me.
But the biggest change is how the experiment works in my professional life. "I'm sorry to bother you" used to be my go-to phrase whenever I needed clarification on a project. But was I sorry? Not really; I needed guidance, and the colleague I approached was in the position to give it. Mid-week, I cringe when I find myself typing, "I'm sorry if this isn't quite on track yet" in an email to an editor. For the first time, I catch the subtext: I'm admitting, more or less, that I don't think my work is good—even though that's far from the case.
After that, whenever I feel the urge to say sorry, Wilding suggests I ask myself the question Why? in my head. Sometimes, the answer is simple: I'm sorry because I stepped on your foot. But more often than not, there's a complicated reason rooted in my own self-doubt: I'm sorry because I'm so afraid of rejection that I'll do it myself before you even have a chance. A few days of trying this trick, and it is clear to me that the simpler the sorry, the more likely it is that my apology is warranted.
And now that the official experiment is over, I sincerely do apologize to the man whose leather loafer I stomped during my rush to the train…and, of course, to my blow-dryer for its daily abuse.
This article originally appeared in TrendingNY, the new free weekly fashion and beauty magazine for New York women. Find this and other stories in the first issue, out in New York now, and follow TrendingNY on Twitter and Instagram to learn more.
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