Ted Knows Learned Optimism

By: Lauren Snider Thompson, MAPP

“I do love a locker room. It smells like potential.” If you are a huge Ted Lasso fan like me, this quote may bring a smile to your face and perhaps a little chuckle. Ted Lasso, the comedic series on AppleTV in which we follow the ups and downs of an American football coach managing a European football team, demonstrates the power of optimism. 

Everyone knows what a locker room smells like, either from having been inside one themselves in gym class, getting ready for a game as part of a team or — if you are in my current situation — you have the pleasure of your teenage son bringing it into your home on a daily basis. Instead of seeing the locker room as a sweaty, smelly place, Ted Lasso chooses to see it as a place full of potential. Have we ever stopped to think about where this smell comes from? Perhaps, as Ted would say, the smell is due to the hard work and commitment of the athletes. 

This conscious, intentional choice to see the locker room in a more positive light is what the American psychologist Martin Seligman has termed “learned optimism.” This mindset can be contrasted with “learned helplessness,” which describes a belief that people are unable to change their circumstances in stressful times. People who practice learned optimism challenge their negative inner monologues and make conscious choices to think, respond, and act with a more productive, positive, and asset-based mindset. “Learned” optimism is just that – something that can be taught and purposefully developed.

Our mindsets, much like our own resilience, are malleable. People can be taught strategies to ditch their pessimistic view on life and adopt a more optimistic interpretation of the world. Seligman’s research demonstrates when people participate in targeted positive interventions, their optimism improves significantly. This optimistic perspective has been connected to general health, greater job satisfaction, motivation, and demonstrating greater resilience compared to their pessimistic counterparts. 

Here are some quick exercises you can do to practice learned optimism and see the world like Ted Lasso: 

  • In a situation in which you may have previously viewed as negative, stop yourself and ask: “How might I view this in another way?” “How might Ted view this situation?” 
  • Challenge your negative self-talk. Don’t allow yourself to marinate in negative thinking. 
  • Lend a helping-hand. Giving without the assumption of getting boosts mood and improves mindset. 
  • Take stock in what is going well, what is working, and determine how to build on current strengths. Practice solution-based thinking. 
  • Best Possible Self Exercise: Envision your life with the best possible future and write it down. Don’t worry about making it ‘perfect’ just write what you see for yourself. 
  • Do some reading on the topic. Great books in this area include:  
    • Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E.P. Seligman 
    • The Choice: Embrace the Impossible by Edith Eva Eger 

Life is not always going to go the way we want it. There is going to be sadness, both physical and mental pain. But how we choose to respond to these events is in our control. Although Ted Lasso is a comedy, we could all learn a little from how he chooses to view the world around him. From the man himself, “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.” BELIEVE.


Citations:

  • Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being.  Simon and Schuster. Peters, M. L., Meevissen, Y. M., & Hanssen, M. M. (2013).
  • Specificity of the Best Possible Self intervention for increasing optimism: Comparison with a gratitude intervention. Terapia psicológica, 31(1), 93-100.

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