Three Simple Phrases that Eliminate Self-Doubt and Get You Going Again
There I was, lying in the grass. One cleat on, one cleat God knows where. Making sounds I didn’t know I could make, having pain I didn’t know I could have.
In my freshman-year college football practice at Notre Dame, a player was literally beating the crap out of me every day. Just tossing me around. He was a senior. And at one point he literally knocked me out of my cleats.
My good was not good enough.
I couldn’t walk away. I had to finish that practice against this player, and do it again the next day.
Something had to change or I wouldn’t last. I had to build my resolve. I had to find a way through. That night, lying in bed, I decided that in one specific drill, I would get one win against this guy for one moment, on one day. And then he would probably continue to kick my ass. But I would have that one win to hold on to.
That’s when I spoke the phrases: I am, I can, I will.
I said, “I am Ryan Harris. I am a football player at Notre Dame. I can beat this guy in this certain drill. I will do so by firing off the ball low, having my eye at the target, and striking with my hands faster than I’ve ever struck in my life.”
Sure enough, the very next day I went out there and I destroyed that senior. That was the first play that put me on my way to starting as a freshman.
Better than that, it was the first play in which I chose my mindset.
Since then, these phrases have helped me through every hard time in my life. I want to share them with you.
No matter who you are or where you’re from, we all have similar experiences in life. Embarrassment, pain, failure, loss… hell, even success. And then we always live beyond these moments. Since you’re going to live beyond, you might as well be the one to choose how you do that. To overcome any obstacle—professional, sports-related, parenting, or otherwise—fill in the phrases: I am, I can, I will.
1. “I Am:” Anchor in Yourself & Your Resolve
“I am” is a statement of identity. When you speak the words “I am,” you immediately take stock of who you are, where you are, what you’re feeling. Saying “I am” also allows you to build resolve and release the frustrations of the moment, right away. I am happy. I am angry. I am tired.
Whatever it is you are feeling, acknowledging it will put you in a place of awareness in that moment. “I am” gives you the power to identify who you are and why you are there. I am a radio broadcaster; I am here to give great content, humor, and insight to listeners wherever they are. Or: I am a father, and I am here to be present, to be helpful, to be caring.
This “I am” has to come from what you know to be true about yourself, not what others think. For instance, I am a Muslim. If I were to resign myself to what other people thought a Muslim was, I would not be writing this for you today! When I say “I am,” I immediately feel the strength of my resolve.
Acknowledging your strengths and capabilities with “I am” helps you build resolve. I am good enough. I am able to learn something new. I am me.
And also use “I am” to be honest with yourself, even when you do not like what it means. I am not working hard enough. I am addicted. I am making excuses.
2. “I Can:” Create Opportunity
At some point, your good will not be good enough. That is when you need to speak the words, “I can.” Doing this highlights the opportunities that are in front of you, rather the past you can do nothing about.
Terrell Suggs is one of the top defensive ends in the history of the NFL, a future Hall of Famer, and a World Champion. In one game, he chopped my arms down and hit my quarterback (after he had thrown the ball, thank God). He got to my quarterback! My good was not good enough.
Instead of looking to see whose fault it was (because it couldn’t be mine), or saying, “What happened?” (the past), I looked forward. I said, “I can change how I punch Terrell Suggs. I can make sure I don’t put both hands out again for him to chop down and get around me. I can change how I set.” And I did.
When your good is not good enough, speak the words “I can” and list as many things as possible that you CAN do to help yourself out. This immediately helps you find the opportunities in front of you. It shifts you from inaction to action.
You also uncover the willingness that’s within you. You have it in you to succeed, we all do. Whether it’s your fear, anxiety or failure in your way, find your opportunities. Like this:
I am in broadcasting. I can study, research, and pronounce hard names like Tua Tagovailoa. Or Alohi Gilman. I can learn the names of every Notre Dame football player.
I am a first-time parent. I can read books. I can ask questions of other parents so I can be successful like them.
I am angry or disappointed at my job. I can start fixing my resume. I can start networking. I can meet new people. I can talk to my boss.
I’m disappointed that I lost my job, or didn’t get that job after my third interview. I can be grateful. I can apply for another one. I know I can find an even better job.
Here’s the amazing thing with saying “I can”—it helps you feel grateful in moments of failure.
In my fifth year in the NFL, I had a coach who wanted me to change. He wanted me to learn a new way to play, learn a new way to speak on the field. New techniques. At the end of the day, I was unwilling. And because I was unwilling, I got fired.
I’ve never been more embarrassed and humiliated in my life. I did something wrong and everyone would know. How do I tell my friends that I lost my job? How do I tell my wife, in our first year of marriage, that I’m now unemployed because I was arrogant?
All of these thoughts swirled around and around in my head as I drove away from the facility, my hands shaking in disbelief, and tears falling from my eyes.
In that moment I had a choice to make… I could wallow in my unemployment, sadness and failure, or I could choose for this to be the turning of a new page.
In choosing to turn the page, I spoke the words, “I can.” I can be a great husband, even though I’m not a Denver Bronco.
I can make sure I never lose my job again because of my unwillingness to learn something new and put in effort.
I can stop by Panda Express on the way home for some Orange Chicken, and eat my feelings to feel better.
That night while I was relaxing and laughing with my wife, feeling stuffed after eating those feelings, I realized the power of “I can.” It pulled me up and out of feeling sorry for myself, and for the old me.
The very next morning, I got a call from Gary Kubiak, with the Houston Texans at the time. He said, “Ryan, I think you can help us win. We want to get you down here. We want to do some special things.” And I responded, “I can do that, Coach.”
When I got to Houston, I studied more film. I made sure I was willing. I asked more questions. I did everything I could do— and more—to learn and be open to new things.
Because of that effort over two years in Houston, when that very same coach, Gary Kubiak, became the coach of the Denver Broncos, he called me up again. “Ryan, I need you. I need you to help us win. And I need you to show these young guys how to work.”
Again I responded, “I can do that, Coach.” And we went on to win the Super Bowl.
The words “I can” create opportunity and build resolve. They build the willingness to make you grateful for those times when your good is not good enough, and the failures you endure.
Speak the words “I can” every chance you get.
3. “I Will:” Commit to Take Action
It’s not enough to find your resolve and willingness if you don’t take action. That’s where “I will” comes in.
When you speak the words “I will,” you celebrate your commitment to your resolve and to your dreams. You start to visualize your success. Like this:
I am bad at money. I can start saving. I can listen to podcasts. I can research how to save money. I can research how to lower my payments. I can start saying “no” to certain spending. I will do so today. I will do so every day. I will make my lunches because a USA Today article said you could save $90,000 over your career if you pack your lunch two to three days a week. I will spend more time with my friends that don’t spend a penny to have fun.
The night before that Super Bowl, I felt unsure. I said: “I am terrified that my greatest achievement will become my greatest failure if we lose. But I can go out there tomorrow, put on my pads, and knock the shit out of somebody. I will!” Immediately, I had the resolve, opportunity and action I needed to become a World Champion.
Moments before the Super Bowl, again distracted Lady Gaga performing and Blue Angels flying over the field, I said to myself, “I am distracted. I can take a breath. I can focus on the play that’s being called. I will focus on the play that’s being called, and I will run the play with my greatest effort.” We won.
I’ve been doing this 3-step I am, I can, I will since I was in college. The speed of results for me may come from practice. When you’re doing this at first, have patience with yourself and the process. You may need to do it a few times or do several items in each phrase to feel better. Or it may work right away. You have the power.
This tool can be applied to anything in life—whatever you need to build resolve for. Whether it’s parenthood, asking somebody on a date, getting a new job, asking for a promotion, or speaking up in a meeting.
Lock into yourself with resolve, create opportunity and commit to action. Use the words “I am, I can, I will” to push through every obstacle. Any obstacle, any tough moment in your life.
You can do this.