We often think the three words that will change our lives are “I love you,” but there are actually four words that will improve and enhance all your relationships. They are: “Thank You,” and “I’m Sorry.”
Just as a little experiment, recall a difficult situation you encountered with another person. If one of you had apologized would things have worked out better?
Now, think of a situation when someone did apologize to you sincerely. Did you feel a seismic shift in your heart? Did you notice every muscle in your body soften and relax?
What about the last time someone thanked you in a meaningful way? How did that feel? Did you find yourself more open to life afterward?
Can you recall saying thank you and seeing the joy it brought another?
It is almost impossible to over-estimate the power of these four words and all they imply.
I’m sorry shows humility, taking responsibility for one’s actions and regret. It takes a strong person to apologize.
Thank you reminds the speaker of their gratitude. As Max Strom said, “We can’t feel gratitude and stress at the same time.” So, if for no other reason than reducing your stress levels, practice thanking everyone for everything they do to make your life better.
What gets in the way of using these phrases more frequently, especially considering their power?
Rushing and just not taking the time to think of possible consequences of your words or actions.
Allowing yourself to get out of the habit.
Assuming the other person knew you appreciated what they did and you don’t have to say anything.
Thinking it’s quid pro quo: they didn’t thank you, so why should you thank them?
Erroneously believing apologizing is groveling. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you apologize you are taking a stand, showing assertiveness, and actively changing the direction of an interaction.
Thinking that acknowledging an error makes you “bad,” and, by apologizing, everyone will know you made a mistake. Which brings us to perfectionism. It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that if you push your mistakes under the rug and ignore them (not apologizing is an attempt at this) others will not fault you. There are two crucial aspects of this kind of thinking:
One, in general, people are more likely to rate you poorly if you don’t apologize than if you do, though their opinion of you is really none of your business.
Two, perfectionistic thinking, which is all about feeding the ego, hampers your ability to apologize because to do so you have to admit you regret something you did, and face your fallibility. The simplest cure for perfectionism is daring to be average. By allowing yourself to be human you give yourself a cosmic permission slip to relax.
Thinking an apology gives the other person the upper hand. It doesn’t.
Believing it makes you inferior. How can anything make you inferior to anyone?
False pride, believing your ego will lose something if you admit your human fallibility.
Shame or humiliation from having to face a mistake, even though there’s no shame in admitting errors. Quite the opposite. It takes guts to say “I was wrong.” Personally, I don’t believe there are mistakes, only lessons.
Embarrassment or caring a great deal about how you appear to others. Apologizing can only help you care less what others think of you, as it enhances your confidence in your own choices and decisions.
Assuming apologizing diminishes you in some way. Similar to the dynamic some people have where they believe complimenting a person takes something away from them, or weakens them. On the contrary, apologizing makes you feel powerful because you change your relationship by being positively assertive. It’s easy to think of assertiveness when you want to stand up to someone, but assertiveness also applies to those situations when you tremble with fear at the thought of admitting fallibility.
Tips for increasing your use of these four powerful words:
Seek out situations where you can show your gratitude. The cashier at the supermarket, the person at the phone company, someone who planted a tree or flower in your neighborhood (yes, I am suggesting you actually go into the store and thank the owner for making your neighborhood more beautiful), and, of course, all those near and dear who show their caring in so many ways.
Saying I’m sorry can be more difficult than expressing gratitude. Think of it as a challenge. Anytime you might have offended or hurt someone, intentionally or not, apologize.
These four words are, perhaps, the most empowering we have. With them, you can redirect the course of relationships, heal old wounds, and achieve greater peace. Why be stingy with them when they can change the course of your life? Lavish yourself, yes yourself, and others with these words and watch the magic.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang