Modified photo from Roberta’s Pizza, Brooklyn
I began my 30-day exercise to stop saying the words “sorry,” “totally” and “cool,” just by noticing how often I committed my crime. Like any habit one tries to tweak, I started by recognizing when and why I was saying these words.
Quickly, I realized I actually don’t say totally or cool all that much, but, holy hell, I said “sorry” on an hourly basis — like a nervous tic. Sorry was the word to nip.
“You do say it a lot,” said my Mom.
Was my mother imparting some nugget of historical knowledge?
“What do you mean? Like, all my life?”
“Well I don’t know, no… I’m noticing it now, too. Just stop it!”
If only it were that easy.
I said it bumping into people. I said it when we spontaneously asked a taxi driver to drop off a friend at a different location in Brooklyn.
On the surface of things I get by very well — but often, I don’t meet my own expectations. So I apologize to the world.
“Oh whatever,” said the driver.
No one cared. So why was I even apologizing? Why was I chipping away at my own self-worth by uttering “sorry” at every turn.
To uncover the answer, I realized that I had to “develop an insight into the origin of [my] habit,” as Psychology Today notes.
So I dove into my “whys.”
I’d read another article in the New York Times by likeminded apology abstainer Audrey S. Lee, who attributed the origins of her apologies to a Chinese culture of humility. But she discovered, “that having a perpetually apologetic stance didn’t necessarily represent true humility.”
As I thought about it, my “sorrys” weren’t about being humble, either; they were more about a low-grade, perpetual state of guilt.
It was hard, but I listed out a few — very personal — key moments in the origins of this guilt. As I jotted them down, I even felt guilty that I was oversimplifying. So I turned off that voice and just wrote. What I uncovered was an inadequacy I feel about many things, all the time: my intellectual abilities, the way I look, the things I hadn’t yet done with my life. Dumb, right? (Ack, no judgment!) But that was the voice in my head.
On the surface of things I get by very well — but often, I don’t meet my own expectations. So, I apologize to the world.
Step one, I’d identified the root cause. It was rough, but I did it. No apologies.
Next, I started to notice the moments before I’d say these words. I was able to take a slight pause and stop myself before it was too late. When I took that pause before saying those three words, soon they floated away from my vocabulary. It was starting to work.
At the same time last month, I was watching what I was eating and trying to jumpstart 2015 with a healthier mindset. Yogurt for breakfast, salads for lunch, tracking my food on the Lose It app. I’d even bought — and started riding — a cheapie foldable exercise bike and got back to practicing yoga and lifting weights.
Stuff was starting to sync up.
Not only was I improving my language, but at the same time I actually lost six pounds, in two weeks.
I felt gloriously in control.
Then, January 16. I went out to eat with my wonderful foodie friend who runs the blog Vittles Vamp, and we went to Roberta’s in Brooklyn. After years of living here I’d never been to the renowned wood-oven pizza place in Bushwick, so I had to try a few things right?
Right? For this one I don’t blame guilt, willpower, Ms Vamp or anything else. I just blame the perennial temptress, New York City.
We split the salt-baked celery root, the Orecchiette pasta, a pizza called Lamb of God, several glasses of red wine, and instead of dessert, Ms. Vamp convinced me to have another pizza, their “famous original.”
When in Rome… Roll us home.
The next Monday morning I was a barrage of sorrys. As I spilled out of bed, I tripped over my cat. Sorry Alice! Sorry husband. Sorry coffeemaker. Sorry I kept my do not disturb on and you couldn’t get through. Sorry!
I realized that everything in my life was either in sync, or out of sync. When I let go of the awareness and consciousness and things fell out of focus, I stumbled.
Over lunch with friends a few days later (this time opting for salad), I listened as they peppered our conversation with all three of my banned words. I told them of my efforts and failures and that I was back on the wagon of verbal perfection.
“What’s wrong with ‘totally’?” said Caroline. “I totally say it.”
“It’s just unnecessary. You can’t totally love something. You either love it or you don’t.
“Eh, I think you just need to give yourself a break,” said my other friend Adaora, “Forgive yourself, that’s more important than any of this.”
She was right. By being too stringent, I’d given myself impossible parameters that made binging — on sorrys, totallys or food — inevitable.
And more important than all of that, I was focusing on the wrong effort. It was that guilt I needed to dissipate. And in its place, find forgiveness.
If I said sorry I said it; if I didn’t, I wasn’t sorry.
The thing I did learn in all of this was to take a moment and think. Just a slight pause, before I said or did something.
I could make the choice to totally say it or totally eat it.
A friend didn’t get the job she wanted. “I’m sorry,” I told her on the phone. A friend lost a loved one and I posted on Facebook, “Jean, I am so sorry. “
I bumped into someone on the subway, instead of my typical “sorry”, I just smiled at them.
To which they responded, as one does on the subway, “Excuse you lady.”
I rolled my eyes. But, no guilt.
Check out part one of Margit’s 30-Day Challenge here.
Find out how the rest of our participants did: