Mindset for Mastery: Ryan Harris

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There are two voices in your head competing for attention. One says, “I’m worthy, I’m capable, I will succeed,” but the other one says, “I can’t, it’s too hard, the game is rigged against me.” Everything the first voice tells you is true. If you have the courage to believe it.

That’s what Superbowl champion Ryan Harris, author of Mindset for Mastery—An NFL Champion’s Guide to Reaching Your Greatness, is here to talk to you about. He’s endured nine surgeries over a 10 year career in the NFL. He knows how it feels to doubt yourself in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

In this episode, Ryan offers his insights, inspiration and tools to help you overcome uncertainty and accomplish your goals. We cover topics like how do you find the belief in yourself in the face of tremendous self-doubt? How do you accomplish your objectives? How do you respond productively to failure and how do you have fun when your profession is super stressful? In this episode, we’ll show you how.

Get Ryan’s new book Mindset for Mastery on Amazon.

Find out more at RyanHarris68.com.

Ryan Harris: Yeah, well I’ll take you back to a Sunday afternoon where a little chubby biracial kid with glasses was watching football, and it was the only thing that he had seen where there were big people. The offensive line. And they were on the TV screen, they were being celebrated and high fived by super stars and really, you know, super heroes in my mind.

Then I finally got the chance to play football.

Got my pads at age 14 and one of my teammates said, “Hey man, let’s go heads up,” and I said, “I can’t,” he’s like, “Why not?” I’m like, “Man you can’t say anything but I don’t know how to hit.”

So he roared laughing, you know, immediately became an ex-friend of mine. He ended up telling the rest of the team and he was on the coaches were laughing.

Here’s this chubby kid with glasses, finally gets his chance to get his pads, and gets laughed at.

I didn’t want to come to practice the next day, and I did anyways. I put my pads on, knocked the crap out of somebody. Ended up I could play and then I went to high school and I was beat down time and time again by older and bigger linemen until I decided to jump in the front of the line and to beat people in sprints.

Then this chubby kid with glasses who didn’t know how to hit, he kind of grew into his high school abilities, got to go to Notre Dame, where immediately, I was met with the most physical and dominating opponents I’d ever met in my life before even getting on to the field.

I worked my way through choosing my mindset, through the practices where I was literally beaten shoeless. One time my cleat fell off, and my other cleat was on, and I sprawled out on the grass just completely destroyed, emotionally, physically.

And this chubby kid with glasses who made his way through high school and found a way to get through practice got to the NFL, and in that journey was released once, was told twice that he didn’t have any football left in him, had to overcome three separate back surgeries, and finally made it back to the pinnacle, which came after I gotten released by the Broncos, the team that drafted me.

I experienced great success, and I got a new coach, and he wanted me to learn a new technique, he wanted me to learn a new way to play. I was unwilling to do that and because of that, I was fired and one of the most brutal moments of my entire life. Here I am, I’d made it out of – you know, the room with being chubby in glasses and being laughed at by coaches and then go in to high school and then go in to Notre Dame and finally on NFL and I’m unwilling to change, I’m unwilling to learn something new. I thought I’d had it.

I was just – I’ll never forget that feeling of knowing that I had to drive home and tell my wife and our first year of marriage that I was unemployed because of my unwillingness to work and my arrogance, how do you do that?

Words That Reframe Your Mindset

Charlie Hoehn: Did you know then that it was arrogance?

Ryan Harris: I was in complete shock at the time and then yeah, looking back, I even knew what I was doing it that I wasn’t listening to coaches and that I didn’t appreciate every moment of being able to be on the field, you know?

Something that even the most elite of the elite players, that’s what you do, you respect every moment, even if it is a practice, you don’t want to be in right? I hadn’t learned that yet.

I had tears streaming down my eyes and my hands shaking in disbelief as I drove home.

I just decided then, I could choose to continue to wallow in my unemployment embarrassment, or I could choose that this would never ever happen again and I would never lose my job because of my willingness to work. That I would never be ungrateful for the surroundings that I had worked so hard for and that I really love so much and in doing, and changing and creating.

In that moment, I spoke the words I can.

I can be a good husband without being a Denver Bronco. I can keep working hard, I can make sure this is not the end of my story. I can – next time I get a job, make sure that I bust my tail that I lift my weights that I watch extra film, that I can be grateful for just walking into a stadium, walking into a practice.

I can stop by Panda Express on my way home and pickup orange chicken to eat my feelings.

I mean, these are things that I immediately committed to by changing my mindset with the words I can.

The very next morning, I got a call from Gary Kubiak, the head coach of Houston Texas at the time. And he said, “Ryan, I think you can help us win down here, we’d like to get you down here, what do you think?”

I said, “I can do that coach.” Got down to Houston, practiced, played hard, asked questions, lifted more, appreciated everything, and because of my two years there with Gary Kubiak, I got a call two years later when he was with the Denver Broncos.

He said, “Hey Ryan, I need you. I need you to come help us win the championship and I need you to show these young guys how to work.”

“I can do that coach.” From there, I turned one of my greatest moment of failure into success because of the mindset I adopted.

I refused to be susceptible to the moment.

Even before getting that call from Gary Kubiak, this chubby kid with glasses, sitting on the floor, watching football, fought his way through high school, college, even into the pros and failure, was so happy to be there, was so happy to have fought through it.

That really formed for me, the groundwork I needed to be a champion. I joined that team and I had fun and I shared my mindset with my fellow teammates, specifically my offensive line mates, and we went and won a championship.

When you win a championship, everything you believe about yourself comes true for other people, and I want people to enjoy that moment in their life. I want people to feel the moment when they know all their hard work pays off and everybody around them can see and say man, that hard work—that sacrifice here, that’s why I didn’t get dinner with Ryan, that’s why I didn’t get dinner with Kate, that’s why Kate left early, that’s why Steve went to work early, and that’s why—because those moments matter. The sum is greater than the parts.

In that moment of winning a championship, I knew I wanted to share the opportunity that all of us had in failure. Opportunities all of us have to look around us and celebrate the wins we have every day, and that’s why I love speaking. I love the fact that I put this book out there so, hopefully, one person can find something within their life that they can overcome with some of the tools that I talk about.

The Difference Between Us

Charlie Hoehn: Obviously you chose to have a certain mindset, right? What distinguishes you from a typical person who might not learn from that mistake?

Ryan Harris: Well, I think for me, football is a great accelerator, I’m 33, black, and retired—that doesn’t happen, right? When people see a younger male, a middle aged guy and said “Hey, this is work, this is how I got there,” that gives them the idea that there is an end of the road.

I think one of the greatest things that holds people back is they want to know, “Hey, I want to know that if I leave this job that I’m going to be okay.”

“I want to know that if I leave this relationship, I’m going to meet somebody new and laugh like I’ve never laughed before.”

We just aren’t able to have those answers.

I was fortunate to be in an environment where, in football, you have to take a leap. I had to go to Houston, not knowing if it was going to work out. I had to go to Kansas City after Houston without even saying goodbye to my wife because she was working and they called me at 1:00 and said “Hey, you’re on a 3:00 flight.” That is really everyone’s story.

We rarely know the answers before we take action.

You also mentioned choice. The reason I’m different from somebody else in that moment is because I did the tough thing. I chose to find what I could do.

When you’re in a game in the NFL, you make a mistake, it’s not about what happened. The play clock for the next play is already rolling. You have to move on, and you move on by saying I can. “What can I do? Okay, I got my hand slapped down, I can lift my hands. I dropped the ball, okay, I can look at my hands.”

What makes me unique—and really, what makes the difference between being a champion and not—is the mindset that we choose.

How do we choose failure? What does failure mean? Okay, failure—I got cut from the Broncos. Was my career over? I could have let it be. Did that mean I was bad at football? I could have let it mean that. But I chose that my career wasn’t over. I chose that I had more football inside of me.

I think when we choose our mindset, we can really create and live our wildest dream.

Start Digging—Get to Work

Charlie Hoehn: Talk to me about the importance of just getting to work.

Ryan Harris: Yeah, you know, something that I talk a lot about a lot with entrepreneurs and companies and really, people, you know?

I get the question often, how do I get started? You’ve got to pick up a shovel and dig.

I think it’s so easy to think, “Hey, I took this class so I should be good,” or “I got my MBA, now I should be making more money.”

That’s not how it works.

There are over 200 diamonds in the Superbowl 50 ring that each of us were given as a part of the championship team. Not one of those diamonds was laying on the ground, waiting to be picked up.

Everybody knows what a shovel looks like, everybody knows that building that they’re at work in or the train that they’re riding on, or the tunnel that they go through, somebody dug and dug. Before they knew it would be a hospital, before they knew it would be the Eiffel tower, before they knew it would be the home of a happy family who’s worked hard and is doing the right things, you know?

I really encourage people to dig, do the work, find the work. When I’d gotten fired, released by the Broncos—who would then eventually bring me back and we’d win a Superbowl together—I had to be a better player in between then. I had to dig.

Part of digging too, is that it gets dark in there.

I remember being at the Houston, Texans. Coach Kubiak got fired from there. I didn’t get picked up, I’m waiting but I’m working out, I’m doing the work so that when the teams called me, I was in physical shape to pass a conditioning test, to outlast the training camp, to earn a starting position.

Picking up a shovel and digging is such a huge thing.

It’s not enough to just have a mindset—you have to do the work.

We didn’t just show up at Superbowl 50 and say, “Hey, we believe we’re world champions,” and just stand there as the clock ran through 60 minutes. No, you’ve got to hike the ball, you’ve got to catch it, you’ve got to throw it, you’ve got to run, you’ve got to make a tackle, you’ve got to work. And the perseverance comes because some of that work is going to lead to negative results.

One of the hardest things to do in the NFL is to lose a game. You worked just as hard to win one as you do to lose one.

When your good’s not good enough, being able to still pick up a shovel and dig. Being able to persevere, being able to have the mindset that says you know what? This isn’t the end of my story, this isn’t the end of my journey, this isn’t the end all/be all. One of the things I encourage people to always think about is how many times we’ve lived beyond the moments of embarrassment and failure.

Knowing now that you’ll live beyond all those moments, why not build that moment in the future for yourself? Why not build after a bad snap in the Superbowl? The fact that I’m going to be great the next play to help us win a championship so I can hold the trophy.

Not only do you have to dig, but sometimes I think it is a natural feeling to get frustrated with the work you do.

You really have to persevere when it doesn’t pay off, because hard work does pay off. You’ve just got to keep going.

Let Go of the Past

Charlie Hoehn: A lot of people let these moments of failure or mistakes or letting others down become the defining moments of their career, and they can’t let go. They linger on it in the past. So how do you persevere past them?

Ryan Harris: One of the things I talk about in the book are the phrases I am, I can, I will. I start with I am because it’s important to identify where you’re at.

After being released, I am devastated. I’m devastated, I’m embarrassed. I am crying, I’m shaking, I am feeling these things. When we get in those moments, we avoid it. My God, I just bombed, I am embarrassed, I am thinking that I am going to get fired—but I’m not going to think that, it was great. We start lying to ourselves. No, be honest with where you are. Build your identity.

The night before the Superbowl, I said to myself, I am terrified that my greatest achievement will be my greatest failure if we lose this game. It’s important to recognize and uncover the fears and the feelings you’re feeling, and that’s why I use I am.

Then we talked about I can, but you say the words I can. I am terrified the night before the Superbowl that my greatest success will be my greatest failure, but you know what? I can wake up tomorrow, I can put on my pads.

I will have the best Superbowl game of my life because right now, that’s the only game that matters. I will. And that’s where I will comes for me.

You say the words I will, you start visualizing who is there, who is around you. When people see their favorite athletes, no matter what the sport, football, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, you always see this moment from your favorite athlete, where they just take a breath and breathe it out.

They’ve seen it.

They’ve put themselves there, they’ve built through it. I am, I can, I will, really helps me, and that’s one of the ways in which people can create their beyond and create the moments that they really want. Picking up a shovel, ask questions. Find a mentor.

I’ve got a great mentor who taught me how to be financially literate. I didn’t know what to do with money, I didn’t know that I could save money.

I didn’t know that I didn’t have to charge money, I didn’t know that I could tell people, “I don’t care, I can’t afford something.” I didn’t know that 99% of the people I told that to can’t afford the crap they’re talking about either.

Not only picking up the shovel but creating your mindset, finding a mentor, asking questions, doing things that keep you moving forward, even when you may not believe it yourself.

One of my favorite quotes is Muhammad Ali. He said, “I am the greatest, I called myself that before I knew I was.”

Everybody has self-doubt. Everybody has an obstacle to overcome. Choose how you’re going to do that, and that’s how you build your mindset.

Even the Pros are Learning

Charlie Hoehn: How pervasive are these ideas and this mindset that you are talking about, how common is it among professionals?

Ryan Harris: It’s so uncommon, and that’s why we champion the champions. That’s why we love a champion, because they often do what we can’t. Now every team in the NFL has talent, every single one of them, but where is the belief?

Charlie Hoehn: The mindset is a different story.

Ryan Harris: Yeah, the belief. One of the things I talk about to people often is to be clear about what you want.

“Hey, we want to win the Superbowl.” Okay, so what are we going to do?

When people come to visit me, “Hey you can’t stay with me, man. I’ve got practice tomorrow. You can stay at the hotel. You can stay Sunday after the game, we can hangout Sunday night. Get a New York strip and get some herbal tea, we’ll be fine.”

But it is so uncommon, because one, we get distracted. Two, we feel that if we think something then that’s the reality. Thoughts are not facts.

Nobody teaches us how to deal with fear.

How do you deal with fear? How do you deal with embarrassment? We talk about fear less than we talk about sex, yet every single day we leave the house, we leave our apartment, we walk into a situation with some level of fear, anxiety, and not wanting to be there.

So now let’s talk about fear, let’s break it down.

The reason why I’m a champion is because I was with other teammates who were fantastic and elite performers, but also believed and also overcame their fears and when mistakes happened they didn’t look back. They didn’t look to blame. They looked forward.

They chose a mindset that overcame every obstacle they’ve ever faced, whether that be me with my nine different surgeries in 10 years in the NFL. Whether it is an interception or a sack giving up on offense or a big completion on defense, you’ve got to keep going. Because you are going to live beyond anyways.

I talk about fun a lot too, this book talks about fun. Sometimes I don’t want to practice—so what? You’ve got to have fun. “Hey, woo! Rock and roll, man, we’re here to practice today.” Even if I don’t feel it, even if I don’t think it, I am having fun.

So that’s how I think.

Success through Self-Care

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me what you mean by success through self-care?

Ryan Harris: You’ve got to take care of yourself. I mean the NFL, you’ll hear athletes talk about body work, “Well I’ve got body work.” Because we are embarrassed to say, “Hey listen, I get two massages a day.”

And some of it is weird. I don’t know if you’ve ever been, I think it’s Raikou or Roku where they sit you on a chair and they draw your energies in and out. I mean you’ve got guys who are multi-million dollar brands who are sitting on chairs with needles on their toes and someone pulling on their tongue because they feel it gets them ready for the game, right?

But when you get to the real world, we rarely stop for ourselves.

Meditation changed my career.

Six years in, I chose to be positive and chose to meditate and really feel how I am feeling, get away from things.

Maybe it’s three breaths. I get to a pool, we have a nice little pool here in Denver. I’ll go to a pool for five minutes before my radio show. But you’ve got to take care of yourself.

You know we’ll stop and fill our car up with gas and send three emails and not take a second to say, “How am I feeling today? Who do I want to talk to today? Who can’t I wait to see tonight? What can I do when I get home with my kids?”

Give yourself some time, and that is really where success is made. Every team in the NFL has a bye-week to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself.

Do what makes you laugh when no one is looking, and do it as much as you can.

Charlie Hoehn: I am curious, what do you do specifically to ensure that you are taking care of yourself?

Ryan Harris: It is a great question. Number one, do something new. Make sure you are doing something new. I tried a hot ballet barre class in a yoga studio. I’ve never done it before but you know what? I was talking to myself through that thinking, “What the hell am I doing with my leg this high, I am going to snap in two,” at the moment, right?

I always tell people do something new.

People will email me, “Ryan, I am feeling burnt out.” When was the last time you did something new? It can be as easy as going to a new restaurant. It can be easy as walking a new way to work or walking for lunch.

So I try to encourage people to do something new, and it can be something as easy as a friend calling to be like, “Hey why don’t you come to this concert,” by an artist that you have never heard of. “This could be really fun.”

If you do new things, that will keep you in that self-care mode.

Then also one of the things you do and I encourage others to do is actually schedule the time. We will make anything happen in our calendar, man. Put it in there, “Tuesdays at 2:00 I go and walk around the office.”

And here’s the thing, when people ask you at work, “Hey Charlie, can you do this meeting on Tuesday at 2:00?” You say, “No, actually I’ve got another commitment. Can we do 3:30?” Sure, now you’ve got a 3:30 meeting and you got 2:00 on your schedule. So do something new and put the time on your calendar.

Charlie Hoehn: Absolutely, and I’ll double down on that last point. It’s not almost enough just to have it in the calendar, you have to block off like three hours sometimes, right? If you’ve been living in one hour increments because you have meetings that are an hour and then you have your radio show that’s 60 to 90 minutes…I don’t know.

Ryan Harris: Three hours, yeah, wanting to keep you from resenting what you actually want to be enjoying.

Take some time for yourself between work and seeing your family, all of a sudden you are not tired when your kids are asking you to play. You’re excited to be home.

Sleep is a big deal with that too. Get your sleep. And also with self-care, a lot of times that’s just forgiving yourself. “Hey, I did have a hot yoga barre class and I was going to try on the schedule, but you know what? I am going to take a nap right now. I’m going to stop and see if my wife wants to get lunch.”

Forgiving yourself can be a big help as well.

Celebrate Every Single Win

Charlie Hoehn: Celebrate every win—how do you celebrate?

Ryan Harris: I’ll tell you, it does go with the mindset of keeping going. We had bus three on the Superbowl 50th season, and the only rule on bus three was that there were no rookies. They ask too many questions.

Now, one of your favorite football players of all time is the absolute worst country singer that I’ve ever heard, and I know that because every win, he would sing the same lame ass country songs over and over again. But you know what? He was having fun.

People were laughing, joking, calling friends, facetiming, it doesn’t matter.

You have to have fun, otherwise you fail to see where you’re at in the journey. It can be something small, even in failure.

Like, “Wow, you know what? I did do this right, I’m going to celebrate that we’ve got this right better.” And then, “Yeah we lost this game but we really did better in this area that I’d focused on and worked on.”

Now I am celebrating my commitment, now I am recognizing the improvement that I made.

Did you have a coffee or something this morning Charlie?

Charlie Hoehn: I did, yeah, I had tea.

Ryan Harris: What did it take for you to have that tea? And I am not just saying that maybe you went to your favorite tea shop. You had to have money. Well how did you get the money? Okay, well you have a job. How did you get that job? Well I persevered through college, I persevered through some crappy mornings, I actually thought I’d never be a tea drinker, and here I am, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve grown as a person.

That cup of tea that you had this morning is not just something that just started you on your day, no. That’s a celebration of your entire life to get to that moment. Now whatever happens after that what can stop you now? You started with a cup of tea that took you years to get to and you got a smile on your face, you’re rolling to the next one. So that is the power of celebrating every win.

It builds in gratitude. It builds in the relief.

I mean, when you win the Superbowl, you’re 24 to 25 weeks into the season. If you don’t celebrate along the way, 10 weeks in you are going to say, “What the hell am I doing? I’ve got 50 more weeks to go. This sucked. It didn’t work out.”

No, no, no, there’s some wins there. “Man you know what? I had a job today” “Wow they got Snickers bars on the flight on the way home from flight. I’m going to have one,” right?

Find the positives, find the wins around you and you begin to feel how much you can achieve when you realize how much you already have done and how much you’ve already worked for.

Successful Mindsets for Mastery

Charlie Hoehn: What is one or two of your favorite success stories of people who’ve taken on this mindset that you talk about?

Ryan Harris: Yeah, I’ll start with one of the ones when I spoke to a group about having fun. It is so funny to me, because it’s something that we all forget, especially as adults. One of the adults who I didn’t know, and oftentimes I speak to a group I don’t know each and everybody’s issues that they are dealing with, but I’ve gotten word back from the person who had me come in that this particular person had been having troubles with his son.

They’ve had over a year and a half of issues with their son in terms of behavior and connecting. After talking and being engaged with me during a speech about fun, he realized, “I realized with what Ryan said, I wasn’t having fun with my son.”

As a father that is so hard to hear, right? Because I can relate to being carried away or distracted. But he said they started having fun, and the year and a half of turmoil changed overnight.

One company that brought me in, I talked to them about engaging. I got an email from someone who said, “I used your tactics and tools to engage, and I found out that one of my highest performers who’d have fallen off greatly had lost her foster child. The day that the mother had come back and taken their child, and she had lost who she believed was her child.”

Because of being able to talk to each other and talk about engaging and having her use the tools, she learned something that made her company better and really impacted the life of somebody who is really going through something.

And one of my teammates on the day we won the Superbowl, he was going through some things. I just told him, “Listen, we have a choice in how we respond to things. Recognize the distractions. Label to me three distractions right now in your life.”

And he said, “Social media, my family, honestly, my friends too.” I said, “Great, now you know who to get rid of. You can turn on social media after we win the Superbowl. You will see your family when we’re holding that trophy and they are on the field, and you’ll see your friends after when you pay for them to drink whatever age appropriate beverage you all want to drink. Celebrate the fact that you just won the Superbowl. None of those three scenarios need to happen right now.”

So he was able to turn away from the distractions, recognize the distractions, and we ended up winning the Superbowl because of his increased performance.

Those are stories that really stick with me and really continue to keep me on this path to serve through speaking, serve to writing the book and encourage people to think about how they’re choosing their mindset.

An NFL Aside

Charlie Hoehn: I would kick myself if I didn’t ask you what is the most fun story that you had while you were playing in the NFL.

Ryan Harris: Man, there’s a lot of fun, a lot of characters. I’ll tell you something. Getting to meet Barack Obama at The White House was something that I never…Not a chance that any of those aspects, whether it being a champion, being in the White House, being in the White House as a champion… I know what the inside of the Whitehouse looks like! It’s crazy. When Barack Obama came in, he came in like you thought he would.

“Hey everybody, good to see you. Payton, who’s going to retire first?” You know what I mean? Just kind of just funny, and I was like, holy God, I’m in the White House as a champion, and there’s the president.

Whether it was playing in London…whether it was as a lineman, you often know there’s going to be a touchdown before the entire crowd does…playing with all the greats I’ve played with…I mean, all of it was great, but to have football bring me into the White House and meet Barack Obama and shake his hand, that’s something that I will carry with me forever.

Connect with Ryan Harris

Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you, to follow you, maybe listen to your show?

Ryan Harris: Connect with me via email, ryan@ryanharris68.com. Also, I’ve got a newsletter there at my website, ryanharris68.com. you can search for the Kreckman and Harris show on the iTunes podcast, click to subscribe.

I’m also on Twitter, @salaams_from_68, probably easier to just search Ryan Harris.

But you know, my big thing is interaction. I interact with those who read the book, who have me at speeches. When I speak to companies and people and groups, I continue the conversations because that’s important to me.

It’s not for me to give you tools and leave. I’m a resource. I want you to have the best moments in your life because of the choices you make and what you work for.

I’m so happy to be a part of many journeys that span the nation.

Charlie Hoehn: What is one thing listeners can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?

Ryan Harris: I want to see if you can smile one more time in a day. I want to see if you can smile at one more person, smile in the face of one more adversity. Because listen, you’ve overcome all the adversities you’ve come through. You’ve lived beyond every terrible moment.

So the next time a person presents you with an opportunity or a situation presents you with an opportunity, I want you to smile.

I want you to see what you can do in that moment, and I want you to see if you can remember what it took for you to get there and what you had to overcome to get to be in that moment that you’re smiling in and that you’re faced with another challenge in.

Let’s see what you create.

Get Ryan’s new book Mindset for Mastery on Amazon.

Find out more at RyanHarris68.com.

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