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Have you ever wished you could 'un-say' something the minute it comes out of your mouth?

Or wished you could rewind an argument to that crucial moment - and respond differently this time?

With this simple technique you can can virtually turn back the clock - while simultaneously teaching your mind to do it differently in the future.

The technique is known by some as "post-hearsal" - and in our family, as a "Do-Over".


1. Notice the Regret (compassionately)

As Kathryn Shulz says in her TED talk, regret has an important message for us (I won't give it away if you have not heard the talk). The point is to stop and feel the regret with self-compassion - like you would for a friend who temporarily messed up.

Then, take a breath and remind yourself that trust and connection are not built through "getting it right the first time" but through our willingness to keep trying.

2. Imagine What You'd Say Differently

In your mind, go back to the words (or actions) that you regret and make a guess about what would work better.

Now say the new words silently (or imagine the action) in your mind.

Example: Recently, my partner and I got into an argument after I said, gruffly, that I did not want to go to the gym with him (period). When Imagining What I'd Say Differently, I wondered if he might have been responding to my complaints about not getting enough exercise lately. So, I guessed that it would've worked better for me to: (a) express appreciation for the offer and (b) say kindly that I was going to pass on it because I did not feel comfortable in that new gym.

3. Request a Do-Over

Now, ask for a Do-Over, realizing it is an expression of both humility (i'm human and messed up) and care (i want to put the effort into doing it better). Since the Do-Over requires participation from the other, a request will probably work better than a demand.

Something like "Yikes. That did not go the way I wanted it to. Can I have a Do-Over please?"

4. Turn Back the Clock!

This is the fun part. Ask the other person to say the line (or do the action) to which you wish you responded differently. Then, PAUSE, BREATHE and DO IT (respond differently based on the guess you came up with earlier).

The other person then needs to give a real-time response to your new line (or action), as though it is happening from scratch, to which you respond live, and so on until you come to a natural stopping point. 

In our experience, the Do-Overs produce two fairly consistent results.

1. Increased Connection

The new interaction builds ON TOP of the old one, creating a (surprisingly) greater sense of harmony and connection, even after painful arguments.

In the case of the gym argument, during the Do-Over, my partner (who had his own regrets about his short fuse) was relieved to hear why I did not want to go to the gym and offered to lift some weights in the basement instead.

2. Improved Skills

Just as importantly, with repeated use, the technique seems to be increasing our capacity to respond differently to each other in specific situations.

I believe this is because it combines the powerful effects of strategies such as role-playing, mental rehearsal, and simulation, which have been shown to improve skills and performance in athletes, airline pilots, business managers, parents of kids with disabilities, counselors, midwives, nurses and medical students. 

Note: While we mostly use Do-Overs as a couple, the technique sometimes works well with our kids, who tend to make it playful by exaggerating the Do-Over (e.g., after pushing each other to get to the stairs first, their Do-Over was "After YOU madam." "No, no, after YOU, sir" - followed by a fit of giggles).


Hope you enjoy this approach to turning back the clock - and do write in and let me know how it went!


Source: While used widely around the world, I personally learned this technique from Kit Miller, director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for NonViolence and guest instructor for BayNVC's Leadership Program.

Copyright Elaine Shpungin 2012

About the Author

Elaine Shpungin Ph.D.

Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D., is the director of the University of Illinois Psychological Services Center.

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