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How to Apologize: Getting a 'Do-Over' This Groundhog Day

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With Groundhog Day rapidly approaching, my mind has turned to the elusive do-over. The 1993 Bill Murray flick named for February 2nd has to be one of my all-time favorite, watch-it-every-time-it's-on movies. For those who haven't seen it (and really, what kind of carpet are you living under? Netflix it immediately), the movie's plot centers around a crotchety guy named Phil Conners, played by Murray. Phil is forced to endure the same day over and over until he gets it "right."

The golden opportunity that Phil gets is to explore all of the different ways to play out his day. First, we meet the mean and selfish Phil, then the woman chasing Phil and then the do-gooder Phil. Finally, just when all hope is lost and Phil truly accepts his fate, we meet the real Phil. And on the morning of February 3rd, (spoiler alert!) we watch as Phil wakes up in the arms of the woman he loves. It's a new day, and he's a renewed man.

For Phil, the do-over worked. It taught him about the man he was on the inside -- the guy he was hiding from the world in favor of the person he thought people expected him to be. When Phil stopped caring about what others wanted from him, thought about him or believed about him, he was able to be his authentic self. And that proved to be the man who all the women in the movie fell in love with.

What can we learn from Phil? That do-overs are possible. When something in your life goes terribly wrong, it is possible to fix it. To wipe the slate clean, as we learn from Phil, you have to first get honest --honest with yourself and the person (or persons) you've harmed. You have to make amends.

There's no magic here, and yes, there are things that no apology in the world can fix. But if you have one of those "Oh my God, I can't believe I did, said, thought or acted that way" moments, you can create a do-over for yourself.

Forgiveness is something out of your hands. But if you're seeking it, here are a few tips to create your own do-over:

  1. Change the setting. Making over an experience requires that you paint an entirely different picture. Pick a different restaurant, change your tone of voice or go to a different place to hold the conversation. Even if you're at home, you can go to a different room or outside. To change the memory, you have to first change the environment.
  2. Fix what you did wrong by not repeating it. The big elephant in the room is the concern that what happened is a harbinger of things to come. Make sure that through your conversation, actions, attitude and behavior that you do not repeat the offending action. What we're talking about here is building trust with the person harmed so they can begin to believe that you will be different. Trust takes time and action. Without both, it cannot grow.
  3. Address the issue head on. If you owe someone an apology, give them one. Don't make excuses for what happened; be straight about it. If you drank too much, tell them why (e.g. "I was nervous" or "I didn't realize that I hadn't eaten enough"). If you spoke too bluntly, tell them you're sorry ("I'm sorry for what I said and for hurting you"). By saying to another person that you acknowledge your part in hurting them, the resulting feeling is one of true ownership of the indiscretion. Apologies that are delivered in an indirect way (e.g. "I'm sorry you're sad") do not fully address the issue and can leave someone with the sense that you're not truly sorry for the pain. It might appear, rather, that you're just sorry you have to deal with it.
  4. Don't go overboard. It's important not to fixate on the problem either. When people make an honest mistake, an apology is what's needed to address the problem -- not groveling. Make your peace and move on. If what's required is more than an honest apology, you may be looking at a deeper, more personal issue. Own the part that's yours, but don't martyr yourself to someone else's unresolved pain.
  5. Remember the golden rule for apologies: actions speak louder than words. Now that you've addressed the problem, get back to having fun. Be mindful that the next time you have an opportunity to be in a similar situation, your actions will be judged against the first one. You can successfully create a do-over by proving through your actions that things can, and will, be different.
  6. Find a way to have a laugh about it. Horrible slip-ups make for exceptional "Do you remember when..." stories that are toasted at weddings, anniversaries and in quiet conversations about your life. No one is perfect. If you can find the humor in the hiccups, it's a good sign that you can weather other storms together later on.

The bottom line here is that we all deserve a chance to make up for our indiscretions. No one was born without a few golden opportunities to stick their foot in their mouth. Weather yours by knowing how to make amends when the apple cart topples. And if you need a crash course, take a few hours to watch "Groundhog Day." Surely your do-over needs can't be as bad as goodole' Phil's!

Around the Web

How To Apologize to a Woman | Psychology Today

Make a sincere apology - AskMen.com

How to Make a Sincere Apology | eHow.com

How to Make a Public Apology | Speeches | Howcast.com