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Identifying your Character Strengths

In 1998 there was a change in direction and the Positive Psychology movement emerged (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This branch of psychology studies and applies knowledge of positive traits and experiences, strengths and optimal functioning (Seligman, 2002). Positive psychology and strengths-based approaches have been linked to performance enhancements in sport (e.g., Gordon & Gucciardi, 2011) efficiency within the workplace (e.g., Clifton & Harter, 2003), and positive mental health outcomes (e.g., Fluckiger & Grosse Holtforth, 2008).

Within sport, strengths-based approaches can be used to help athletes to identify their “super-strengths”. Super strengths can be defined as “A strategy for performance that utilises a potential world’s best resource to gain a unique competitive edge in a performance context” (Ludlam et al., 2016). Other variants of a strengths-based approach explore “Character Strengths”. These are core parts of our personality that allow us to be our best self and are “the foundation of optimal life-long development and thriving” (Park & Peterson, 2009). Character strengths have been associated with desirable outcomes including school success, leadership, and kindness in young people (Park, 2004).

It is important to note that whilst strengths-based approaches do not dismiss weaknesses, they do make weaknesses less relevant (Cooperrider, Whitney & Stavros, 2008). From a strengths-based perspective weaknesses can be explored as strengths ‘overplayed’.

Strengths can be overused, misused or underused and, therefore, a large part of developing strengths focuses on finding the right balance. Niemiec (2018) discusses finding “the sweet spot” of strengths as the optimal use of character strengths. In every situation that we find ourselves a strengths sweet spot can be pursued (Niemiec, 2019). For example, if your strengths are drive, courage, and determination within a sporting context, you will need to understand and be aware of these skills along a continuum during competition. Without this knowledge there is a chance that these skills could turn into unnecessary risk and reckless behaviours if not channelled appropriately. Weaknesses can clearly emerge from strengths; this makes identification of the ‘sweet spot’ particularly important as we strive to become more self-aware and in-control of our strengths.

Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are perhaps presented with an opportunity to turn inwards and learn more about ourselves and the strengths that we naturally hold. This approach could be useful for us all as we try to find ways to support ourselves and each other and find meaning in the strange and uncertain times ahead.

One way to identify your character strengths is using a free online tool called Values in Action (VIA) Character Strengths (Niemiec, 2013). There are two versions of the survey, the youth version for ages 10 - 17 and the adult version for 18 years +. Complete the online questionnaire and take some time to consider how you are using your strengths at the present moment.

When you have identified your character strengths, some of the following questions may be useful to explore:

· What do my strengths look like overplayed and underplayed?

· What do my strengths look like at their best?

· What opportunities can I create to use my strengths more?

· Where is my sweet spot in my current situation?

· What action can I commit to today to tap into one of my character strengths?

Stay tuned to Cultiv8 Academy to learn more about our Strength-based Approach to Coaching & Consultancy in the coming weeks!

In the meantime look after yourself and each other and Stay Safe!

Laura Swettenham

Performance Psychologist


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Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook 5 (2nd ed.) Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom

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Gordon, S. (2012). Strengths based approaches to developing Mental Toughness: Team and 23 individual. International Coaching Psychology Review, 7(2), 210-222.

Gordon, S., & Gucciardi, D. F. (2011). A strengths-based approach to coaching mental 20 toughness. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 2, 143-155. doi: 21 10.1080/21520704.2011.598222

Ludlam, K., Butt, J., Bawdwen, M., Lindsay, P., and Maynard, I., (2016). A strengths-based consultancy approach in elite sport: exploring super strengths. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28 (2), 216-233.

Park, N., & Peterson, P., (2009) Character Strengths: Research and Practice, Journal of College and Character, 10:4, , DOI: 10.2202/1940-1639.1042

Niemiec, R. M. (2013). VIA character strengths: Research and practice (The first 10 years). In Well-being and cultures (pp. 11-29). Springer, Dordrecht.

Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe

Niemiec, R. M. (2019): Finding the golden mean: the overuse, underuse, and optimal use of character strengths, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/09515070.2019.1617674

Park, N. (2004). Character strengths and positive youth development. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591, 40-54.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. In 7 C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp.3-12). New 8 York: Oxford University Press.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. 5 American Psychologist, 55, 5–14. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5


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