How to Stop Staying Things You Later Regret

Posted on: December 5th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti 1 Comment

Have you ever said something you regret? Wait, that’s a dumb question – a better question is how often do you say stuff which you later regret? I often say stuff I shouldn’t. Saying the wrong thing can make you look foolish, but worse, can hurt people. You can damage relationships, even end friendships, and jeopardise careers and work opportunities. Why is it people don’t have full control over what comes out of their mouth?

I found a great new study that looks at why people say stuff they shouldn’t. It was led by Dr Brent Coker from Melbourne University and has been published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

A study into why we say stuff we later regret

Dr Coker’s team conducted a number of experiments over three years, and found evidence that ‘arousal’ is a major contributor to disclosing information that people might not otherwise have disclosed. 

Being an academic, he is not talking about sexual arousal. By arousal Dr Coker refers to the degree by which the individual is awake and alert or even tense. I guess, you would think that being ‘awake and alert’ would increase rather than decrease your awareness of what you should and should not say, but Dr Coker found this is not the case.

When we are tense we have less ‘brain power’

Arousal or tension uses up our ‘cognitive resources’ or our brain power. During arousal or times of tension or stress people have less conscious cognitive resources available for controlling what comes out of their mouths. This causes their minds default to be automatic, and they start making less considered responses. In other words they reveal stuff they should keep to themselves.

“Information that we’re usually careful about disclosing, like secrets and very personal information, are more likely to be disclosed when we default to more automatic responses,” Dr Coker said. “This is mainly because they require some degree of effort to conceal.”

Arousal or tension or stress increases the likelihood that the information we let slip will be information that we usually take efforts to conceal.

Under what conditions might we lose control over what we say?

Dr Coker’s team did a few experiments. In the first, they asked 86 participants to write dating profiles.

The researchers induced arousal (or stress) in half the participants, by telling them they would have to do a really, really hard maths test afterwards, generating a sense of anxiety.

“We found that aroused group disclosed more embarrassing, emotional, intimate and even incriminating information on their dating profiles than those who were relatively relaxed,” said Dr Coker.

“And just in case you think that being completely upfront is a good strategy when seeking a date, a post-hoc study on the same data found that people evaluating the aroused profiles preferred the people who didn’t disclose overly personal information.”

A study looking at trolling

In the second experiment, involving 160 participants, the university researchers investigated under what conditions people would confess to trolling. They found that when people are made nervous by exposure to a highly emotional and disturbing photo, they were more likely to disclose times when they said mean or malicious things to others online.

The results suggest that arousal increases the disclosure of information that people don’t normally like to reveal, while relaxed people are better at concealing information and keeping secrets.

Exercise can cause you to disclose information

In a third study, the research team had 169 participants jog on the spot for 60 seconds. They found that participants were more likely to share embarrassing stories – or open up to others – after physical exercise.

“Usually, people might disclose personal information like this to people that are close to them, but it seems we are more likely to open up to strangers when aroused, particularly by physical exercise,” Dr Coker said.

How can you get better control over what comes out of your mouth?

How can we lessen the chances of disclosing inappropriate information, and increase control over what we say to others? Dr Coker says the key is lowering arousal or tension or stress. It is sort of like when you want to make a good impression on someone, but you are so nervous you blow it. If you could only just relax and be yourself, it would all be fine!

Dr Coker points out that the problem is that the times when we ought to be careful with what we say – like during job interviews, important work meetings or romantic encounters –  we are often tense or aroused, and it isn’t easy to remain calm and relaxed.

Dr Coker says you need to take steps to control and lower your stress levels and, as a result, your arousal level. He suggests techniques like consciously controlling your breathing  and listening to calm music.

Take care of your overall stress level

Also you can slower your stress level by watching how much coffee you drink, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep every night. And of course you can also look at reducing your overall stress level in your life.

Going by what Dr Coker and his team discovered, living a healthy lifestyle is not only good for your body, it might also be good for your self-control, and help you keep sensitive personal information to yourself!


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


  1. Kolenko Karin says:

    Really interested. Know how easy it is to fall into that trap

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