PositivePsychology.com | Positive Psychology Toolkit


In traditional psychology, problems tend to be approached with a weakness-focus, meaning that the client and practitioner seek to extract what the client is doing ‘wrong’ to correct and solve the problem at hand. In positive psychology, a strength-focus is assumed, meaning that the client and practitioner seek to identify what the client is doing ‘right’ in a given situation and how these positive attributes can be utilized to solve the problem. The value in this approach is that the client views the problem more positively and constructively, which not only buffers against self-criticism but also promotes a growth mindset (Dweck, 2008). For example, a client who is experiencing burnout at work. Approaching the problem with a weakness-focus may highlight that the client is spending too many hours at work and devotes little time to his/her family and self-care. While such factors may be true, focusing only on these may lead the client to feel bad about him or herself. Comparatively, approaching the problem with a strength-focus may highlight that part of the issue is the client’s tendency to overuse of his strength “perseverance.” In this way, the problem becomes a problem of doing “too much of a good thing,” which is undoubtedly a more encouraging and motivating starting place.


This tool was created by Hugo Alberts (Ph.D.) and Lucinda Poole (PsyD).


 The goal of this tool is to help clients extract strength from a current personal problem. By doing so, clients learn to view problems from a positive, strengths-perspective rather than from a negative, weakness-perspective.


  • Some clients may need help identifying the strength that they are underusing or overusing (Step 4). Advise the client that strength-spotting takes practice and provide guidance as needed. Clients can also refer to the strength list in the “Character Strengths Overuse and Underuse tool” (referenced in the next dot point) for
  • This exercise could be used in combination with the tool “Character Strengths Overuse and Underuse” in the Toolkit to give clients some idea of what strength misuse looks


  • Dweck, S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.
  • Grant, M., & Schwartz, B. (2011). Too much of a good thing: The challenge and opportunity of the inverted U. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 61-76.
  • Niemiec, M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing.Hogrefe


Extracting Strengths from Problems


Strengths are things at which we are naturally good. Using our strengths energizes us and helps us feel and perform atour best. Examples of strengths include curiosity, kindness, fairness, perseverance, humility, and hope.

Strengths, however, can be used too much or too little. Imagine that a friend is upset with you for being overly curious about a sensitive family matter. In this problem, you may have overplayed your strength “curiosity.” An example ofunderusing a strength would be to fail to laugh along when a friend shares a funny anecdote about you. Here, you would beunderusing the strength “humor.”

In this exercise, we will look closely at a current problem in your life, something you are struggling with at the moment, and rather than focus on this problem by determining what you are doing ‘wrong,’ we will focus on what strength you are you are using too much or too little.

Step 1 Describe a current problem

What are you struggling with now? Describe this problem in detail below:

E.g., I am feeling stressed about an upcoming presentation because I am underprepared.



In what area of your life does this problem have the greatest influence? Friends, family, work, health, other? Please write down the context below:

E.g., At work







Is there something that you are doing too much or too little of that may be contributing to this problem?


E.g., I am spending too much time perfecting my slides, and not enough time working on my actual speech.



How can you reframe the behavior identified in Step 3 as a strength that is being overplayed or underplayed? Remember that strength is something at which you are naturally good, and in the context of this personal problem, you may haveoverplayed or underplayed one of your strengths.

E.g., Underlying strengths of mine in this situation are “attention to detail” and “conscientiousness.”







What can you do to help remedy the problem? Describe at least one actionable step that you could you take.


E.g., Accept that my slides are ‘good enough’ and save and upload to my USB; turn my full attention to speech writing and stay onthis task for the next 30 minutes (set a timer if necessary).