What I Learned When I Stopped Saying "I'm Sorry" For A Week

Sorry (adj.): Feeling sorrow, regret, or penitence; inspiring pity, scorn, or ridicule.

Sorry (a women’s version): Attempt to excuse completely legitimate requests; Feeling the need to cover any flaw accidentally made visible; Shame at sharing too much or displaying imperfection.

It was a Sunday evening and my roommates and I were soaking in the last quiet, goofy, cozy night before the full-fledged storm of finals was to hit us, when we found our conversation had landed on the topic of saying “I’m sorry.” We say “I’m sorry” all the time, but what did it really mean anymore?

Sometimes we said sorry for being in someone’s way walking to class—aka taking up a normal amount of space on the sidewalk. Sometimes it was for not being as concise with our words as we could have been. Sometimes it was for accidentally sharing too much of what we were really feeling inside—forgetting to cover up and letting someone see some vulnerability beneath the usual "I'm fine!" mask.

We were so put off by this impulse response that enough was finally enough, and we decided we wouldn't say, “I’m sorry” for the rest of the week! To raise the stakes (and provide a little much-needed motivation, which is always in short supply at the end of the quarter) we also decided it would be a competition. Who could truly break their habit? It was going to take commitment: a conscious effort to reverse this habit society had imbued in us over the last 21 years.

We were determined to beat it.

The rules:

  • Absolutely NO using the phrase “I’m sorry." 
  • You may, however, apologize and take ownership for wrongful doing if it was in fact wrongful.
  • If you do say the forbidden phrase, you must mark one tally under your name on the whiteboard in the kitchen. (We had an understanding of trust—if you said it, you had to be honest and 'fess up even if none of the other roommates heard it.)
  • And finally, the roommate with the least amount of tallies at the end of the week would receive a bottle of wine.

The war was on.

The Week:

  • Monday: Said “I’m sorry” for things I didn’t need to be sorry for three times. It was like word vomit. I said “sorry” to my physical therapist for not being able to bend my knee with my torn MCL…
  • Tuesday: I only said it once! I’m pretty sure. I was at work and I stuttered in front of my boss. My nervous habit pounced before I was able to stop it. Next time I will say, “excuse me.”
  • Wednesday: To be completely honest, I don’t think I said it… I’m starting to retrain my habit and rather pause or say, “excuse me.” Or I just don’t feel sorry.
  • Thursday: Overheard my roommate on ordering French fries: “I’m ordering French fries. I’m not sorry.” Progress!
  • Friday: The challenge was FINALLY over! Whew. Not only was not saying “I’m sorry” difficult, but trying to notice if I had said it was even more difficult… But five days later, the habit was (partially) broken!

The Winner: 

One thing is for sure, Haley lost! All jokes aside, however, a tie felt most fitting: it meant we all learned important lessons. 

The Results: My roommates and I found that saying “sorry” was a defensive weakness, a nervous habit. Instead of cheating ourselves with this phrase, we learned to speak more directly, with greater declarative statements, and to be unafraid of expressing our thoughts and opinions. We finally felt empowered to share what we really wanted to say because we realized that there was nothing wrong with asking our barista to remake a drink without dairy because we don’t need to apologize for our allergies!

As I step forward into the future, I will continue to be mindful of this pesky phrase and I encourage you to do the same.