How to Recover After Saying Something You Regret
Have you ever said or done something without thinking and then regretted it? Maybe it was an emotional outburst. Or perhaps you did something mean when that’s out of character for you.
If so, you're human. None of us is perfect.
That’s why it’s so important to accept when we aren’t, forgive ourselves and then get right back on track to being the best version of ourselves that we aim to be. Especially when this bad behavior wasn’t intentional.
It starts with having the self-awareness to recognize what has happened, then showing the strength of character to admit you were wrong and set things right. (Spoiler alert: the second part is harder than the first!)
It takes practice, but the upside is that you will have taken the first steps for turning something bad into something good.
Recently, I had one of those opportunities to “practice” when I caught myself behaving badly.
My bad behavior
At the end of another great CrossFit workout, the ten of us were sitting in a circle, ready for the cool down stretches. But our trainer, Lucas, kept talking to one member – let’s call her Janet – about how to master those tricky “knees to elbows” moves from the workout.
I could feel my muscles tightening and feared my lower back would seize up.
Didn’t Lucas know that we were sitting still in a frosty gym with our sweaty workout clothes making it feel colder by the second?
When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I blurted out, “Hey Lucas, can we get going with the warm down already?”
When winning isn’t really winning
He and Janet turned to look at me. Then Lucas said, “Okay let’s stretch”.
Victory at last.
But as we started stretching, the whole gym went quiet. No one thanked me for getting us moving again. In fact, the others didn’t even want to look at me.
In retrospect, they were probably stunned.
I’m usually the one who brings positive energy, not the one who sucks the oxygen out of the room. As Suzy Welch says, there are two kinds of people – energy givers and energy takers – and I’m known for being the former.
I didn’t realize how awful it would feel to get what I wanted.
That’s when I knew what I had to do.
Before we started the next stretch, I said, “Lucas and Janet, I want to apologize for my behavior. I put my needs ahead of those of the group and I won’t do that again.”
Lucas smiled and said, “No worries. It’s in the past.” Another member joked, “May was naughty!” And my gym buddy Joe smiled at me and remarked, “Interesting. Self-correcting behavior.”
That’s when I realized how important it was that I had said something. That I had apologized.
Everyone in the class had seen my outburst and selfish behavior. Maybe some of them were even grateful? Who knows. But that’s not the point.
You always have a choice
In this case, I could have done any number of things – started stretching on my own, waited patiently like everyone else, or learned from what Lucas was saying to Janet, to name a few.
As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl points out in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, we always have the freedom to choose how we respond to the situation we find ourselves in.
Initially, I had chosen a lesser response. Thankfully, self-awareness kicked in so I could create a second chance to choose well.
Self-awareness is key
The key is to have the presence of mind to be aware of what you’re doing.
In that moment, I was exhausted from a tough work out that I struggled with. Rather than being a bad person, I’d like to think my brain didn't have enough oxygen running through it to think straight!
When you inevitably make a mistake or do something that you’re not so proud of, the key is to then set things straight and apologize sincerely once you’ve recognized it.
Use your community as a training ground for being the best you can be
This is one of the many reasons I love my CrossFit gym. It’s a source of so many life lessons on how to behave with others, how to be part of a community, how to cheer others on, how to allow others to cheer you on.
As my mother says, it’s a “little society”. And that gives us the chance to practice and become better people.
It doesn’t have to be your gym. It could be your family, your work place, the writers group you belong to – all of these are little societies. Use them all as a training ground for helping to become the best person you can be.
And coming back to the point about being human, the great thing is that while we’re not destined to be perfect, we are capable of learning, growing and improving. And a part of this is making the choice to engage in self-correcting behavior and show your true character.
So how about you?
When have you exhibited self-correcting behavior to turn something negative into a positive?
Leave a comment – I’d love to know.
Many thanks May for a great post, enjoyed reading it and I am still thinking of a response!!
I think this is a made up story. You said you apologized because you put your needs ahead of those of the group but you are not the whole group, you are part of the group. Lucas, as the experienced trainer, should know the group he is training and accommodate to all and not just to one. He could have explained how to do the exercises to Jane after the stretching session, in their own time. If I had been there and witnessed your “outburst”, I’d think “well done May, I’m not going to get sick in this frosty gym because Lucas is trying to flirt with Jane” or something similar. Lucas should have been the one apologizing for making the group wait in a frosty gym with you all in wet clothes from the sweating .
You can say it was a selfish reaction but at the end of the day, you are paying (assuming you are) for the class, it was not a free lesson in which you can think, OK it is free I cannot really complain. It is like paying for a driving lesson and the instructor tries to spend 10 minutes of your time talking to someone else. In this case Lucas should have explained to the group in general, focusing on Jane, on how to do the exercise, masking the request as a general teaching but with only one “target”.
If this story is true, well, I do not think it was the best course of action to apologize, but that’s just me.
Thanks for sharing your views, Esteban, and for sticking up for me! You make some great points, and the story is most definitely true.
Reading your comments and reflecting back on the situation has given me a new insight – that the way communications are perceived (and therefore what’s appropriate versus worth apologizing for) depends significantly on context and culture.
Having grown up in New Jersey and worked in New York City for many years, my “outburst” probably would have seemed like a normal communication to those friends and colleagues. And many of them would probably have said something before I did.
But now that I’m in the polite countryside environment of a London suburb, the same comment and tone seemed inappropriate in retrospect. Even if everyone else may well have agreed with your assessment about what Lucas could or should have done.
And finally, my Chinese upbringing also plays a role. It’s considered rude to make someone “lose face”. And in this case, Lucas was the authority figure as the trainer/teacher and it was unhelpful to have a gym member (even though you’re right, I pay!) challenge him publicly.
Thanks again for sharing your comment, Esteban! You really made me think, which is a great thing.
Said or done something without thinking and then regretted it?
What if you want to practice correcting this behavior, but the moment of the situation has pasted. But I don’t want to leave those I’ve offended without some type of apology for my behavior and reassurance that I will not behave this way in the future.
Any books or articles of how to practice/undo this behavior and what type of conversations/approach to take with those that you offend or have a major difference with?
Thanks in advance.
I’m sorry to hear that you’ve also experienced the same regret as me. Even though the moment has passed, you can still go back and make your apology. I’ve had to do that in another situation where I wasn’t sure exactly how I had offended the person – I just knew I had. Being sincere in your apology is important because people sense when you’re being genuine.
In my case, I said “I want to sincerely apologize to you. I never meant to offend you, and if anything I said did offend you, I deeply apologize and would like to make things right.”
That cleared the air, but it took several more positive interactions before things went back to a more normalized situation. But it was never the same as before.
All you can do is apologize. You can’t control how the other person responds. But it’s still worth making the effort.
Best of luck with your conversation.
I’ve enjoyed reading your article as well as the comments. I have experienced the weighted feeling of regret after making remarks that could have and should have been kept to myself. I didn’t even really realize it until the end of the day. Although I wish I noticed In the moment, so I could’ve self corrected immediately. However, I plan to address the lasp in judgement the next time I see them.
Good for you that you’ll address the issue when you see them. We all make mistakes, it’s what we do afterwards that matters.
Hello May, this is a great article on an outburst or spur of the moment. I love the way you talk about self-correcting behavior. I to have blurted out something or said something I regret more times than I care to admit. Sometimes I don’t correct it until too late or almost too late. What is the best thing to do in situations when others don’t accept my apology?
A true apology is one given without expectations. All you can do is apologize. Whether or not it’s accepted, you can still take the lesson away for next time and look for opportunities to make amends going forward.
I said to my French horn teacher today that I couldn’t turn up to a lesson tomorrow because I was going home and I would be hung over. I really shouldn’t have said that. Live and learn.
This story made me feel better about myself because today I awkwardly said to some strangers you know masks aren’t required here (I told them in case they didn’t know) but now I know it came out wrong because the guy said got it thanks I’m going to wear one anyway so that was embarrassing but we’re all human and make mistakes so now what I’m going to do is know for next time not to say that
I’m glad this post made you feel better about yourself, Abby 🙂 So good that you’re forgiving yourself and moving forward.