If you are like me, you’ve been drawn like a cat to a can opener to the hit show Ted Lasso. The show’s popularity has taken off in part because it so beautifully shows how positive reinforcement and a strengths-based coaching approach fosters positive self-esteem, increased motivation and performance, as well as team cohesion. It demonstrates what those of us in the psychotherapy field have known for ages, one of the most scientifically validated psychological theories of self-actualization out there, that of Rogerian, person-centered positive psychology. Carl Rogers, a mid-20th century humanist psychologist, is ubiquitous in the field today because his approach has unequivocally and consistently held up time and time again.
“Rogers (1959) believed that for a person to “grow”, they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood)” (Mcleod, 2023. https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html).
In my own career I’ve seen firsthand how my client’s grow, increase their resilience, and thrive with this approach. I often integrate psychotherapeutic approaches specific to each client’s goals and personality, but I apply the Rogerian approach with every single client. For me it is easy, authentic and a no brainer. I accept every client exactly as they are without condition and then I see and build on the best in them. Everything I do and say confirms these basic assumptions and the result is, without fail, that they become more empowered, self-assured, and open-minded to their own potential. Motivation for their personal goals increases because self-limiting beliefs are re-imagined.
When we think about the anti-Lasso, the coach that uses negative reinforcement, contempt, and criticism, we can see how an athlete would develop self-limiting beliefs, internalized critics that keep them down. So many of my client’s come to me because they have had coaches, parents, bosses, and other trusted leaders in their lives who have used this approach from an early age, and they’ve internalized this (often because the leaders themselves have internalized it. It is all they know; it was handed down to them and is blindly assumed to be the most helpful approach). There then becomes a part of them that is a composite, a symbolic working model of an inner critic. What naturally follows is that the inner critic part manifests in automatic thoughts that go unquestioned because they are so ingrained, they are believed to be true. From there, behaviours follow that confirm the belief and other courses of action are dismissed or not even entertained (thus limiting). One example of this is those who struggle with perfectionism. They often believe they need to be perfect or they (fill in the blank: are a failure, not good enough, unlovable, etc.). This leads to not trying things they fear they may not be able to do perfectly or treating every failed attempt as a confirmation they are a “failure” rather than as a normal part of the learning curve and an opportunity to grow. You can see how this person may never reach their potential or if they do will never be able to know it or appreciate it because they will always be stuck in a negative cycle regardless of what they do achieve.
So, you can see that Rogers was onto something and how a positive psychology, strengths-based approach which creates a positive feedback loop is a no-brainer when it comes to leading. Now, and prepare to have your mind blown (unless you read the title and have already deduced where I am going with this), imagine how each of us could thrive if we treated ourselves the same way Ted treats his footballers. To re-imagine the above quote the “environment” would be your inner world, your psyche, your mind, and the part of you that observes you and responds to yourself would be the therapist or your inner Ted Lasso. This part would view all the other parts of yourself, your emotions (think insecure parts, fear of inadequacy parts, fear of rejection parts, shame parts, in short all of your totally normal human parts) with “genuineness, openness and self-disclosure” (being honest with yourself with self compassion), with “acceptance” (seeing these parts, all parts of you, with unconditional positive regard), and “empathy” (being able to honour and feel all of your emotions and validate them). Sounds pretty damn awesome right?
Now if you are like many of my courageous, amazing clients you may initially give me the side eye and understandably be a little skeptical. Especially if you’ve had a lifetime of anti-Lasso’s, both externally and internally and that pesky self-defeating self-belief seems like it’s true. You may think to yourself “what does Emily know, if she knew the real me, she wouldn’t think I was so great.” You might fear, particularly if you’ve had people in your life who have told you to “just think positive thoughts” or in other ways invalidated your feelings, that this is more of the same. These ingrained patterns of belief and thinking didn’t occur overnight, and they are definitely not going to be deconstructed overnight. Precisely because we humans get stuck in our own little heads all the time it is so helpful to navigate this process with a therapist or with supportive friends. To the skeptic I say:
a) “Thoughts aren’t facts” (if you’ve ever been to a therapist, you probably wish you had a quarter every time this phrase was uttered) and bringing your awareness to the self-defeating thoughts with the curiosity of a seasoned scientist or an alien visiting earth and studying these fascinating humans helps us to gain perspective on them. In other words, try to be aware of and challenge self-judgments. The more we are mindful of these thoughts and beliefs the more we start to naturally question their truthfulness and imagine other possible realities.
b) I don’t need to know the “real you” to believe this because I already know, with absolute certainty that everyone, EVERYONE, is worthy of unconditional acceptance and positive regard. Full stop. And,
c) This approach is not binary, it is not about being “all positive all the time” but about embracing with a consistent, accepting, and loving stance, ALL parts of us. When we do this we can take a “part” we want to work on and see it’s potential (think of how in the show, Roy Kent’s anger is come to be seen as a product of his early conditioning and is later embraced as an energy he could then channel into being a motivating coach, not as a “bad” part that needed to be suppressed, just understood through a lens of compassion and expressed in a more helpful way)!
I will leave you all with a little exercise: Imagine your inner Ted Lasso and write yourself, or a vulnerable part of you, a recommendation letter, or a motivational speech. If it seems too inauthentic or frightening to show yourself compassion, aim for curiosity (compassion’s more neutral cousin). Curiosity does not assume “good or bad,” it throws binary and limiting assumptions out the window and expands our consciousness.
To conclude, in the immortal words of Ted Lasso, and assuming that by ‘someone’ he means yourself, "if you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain't nothing you can't get through together."