Actually I can.... these three words really can change your life


If you had told me a year ago that the words 'Actually I can' could change your life, I would have rolled my eyes.

But the truth is, those three words have transformed how I see myself, the world - and everything in it.

Like so many, I used to be a serial offender when it came to getting in my own way. My inner critic would create roadblocks, often beginning with the words, 'Oh, but I can’t because...”

While the excuses sometimes changed - 'I'm not that person/I don’t have any other options/where would the money come from?' - the negative mindset rarely did. Wherever there was an opportunity, I often buried it with doubts. I knew that I wanted to set up my own business but had ruled it out by convincing myself that it was too big of a risk. That is the thing with inactivity, it’s often rooted in a fear of failure. The fear becomes self-fulfilling; we fail because we never start.

I was caught up in a viscous cycle of knowing that I wasn't that happy and yet also telling myself that there wasn't anything I could do about it. And I don't think I'm the only one. I see so many people telling themselves these critical stories, from a client who wanted to take her love and talent for photography to another level but told herself she wasn’t good enough, to my wonderful mother-in-law who, after five children, is keen to completely transform her life by living abroad or doing something totally out of her comfort zone, but is convinced she is too cautious to try.

It was only when I was signed off work for two weeks (after a bout of the shingles that led to some serious soul-searching) that I was able to really get some perspective on this decision-making process. I realised that by swapping the words 'Oh but I can't because' with 'Actually I can,' I could rewire my mind to see the positives in a situation, which would in turn encourage me to go after what I really wanted and deserved.

If you, like I once was, are rolling your eyes round about now, I would urge you to try it. Ask yourself: what are the negative assumptions I make every day? Do you give energy to what you can’t do rather than what might be possible? Do you tend to give yourself blanket labels of 'I am not good enough' or 'I am never able to commit to anything'? Challenge these statements; are they based on fact? Go so far as writing a list of evidence for and against that statement - you might be surprised at which list is longer.

Of course it's tough, and sometimes uncomfortable, to challenge the long-held assumptions we have about who we are, what we are good (and bad) at, and what we deserve. But if you try to, you might realise that the only things holding you back are the conversations you have with yourself every day. The stories about yourself you tell to reaffirm the 'oh but I can't' rationale. The automatic statements that stop you from going after what you really want.

The funny thing is, when you give yourself permission to go for it, you begin to dwell on what you can do - and what you want to do - and not the other way round. What you focus on really does grow. 

For me, switching to 'actually I can' meant handing in my notice at a job of 14 years, re-training as a coach and launching my business. Ask any of my friends today and they'll tell you my most commonly used statement is 'You won’t believe what happened to me today…' followed by some sort of inexplicable universal alignment or fortuitous small miracle - one of which is writing this piece in Red.

For you, it might be as big as saying I am brave enough to quit my job for something I love or as small as saying: I am worthy of prioritising time for just me.

Whatever it is you want to change about your life, a simple way to start is to introduce these three words into your life: Actually, I can. Say them, write them, repeat them and welcome them. Then sit back and watch as they work their magic.

This piece was also featured in RED magazine, 2018