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“Focus on What’s Strong, Not What’s Wrong”

By October 24, 2021October 4th, 202310 Comments

I originally published this post in 2013. I am updating it now because Lee Shuer presented at the 20221 Institute for Challenging Disorganization virtual conference again this year. My friend, colleague, and business partner, Jonda Beattie and I had the honor of introducing Lee. Once again, his presentation was impactful. He shared that he has made tremendous progress in his struggle with hoarding by following his own advice and putting his focus on what’s strong.

During the Institute for Challenging Disorganization conference in 2013 in Denver, Colorado Lee Shuer gave us the quote I’m using in the headline for this post. He said, “Focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong“.  I find that people in general are their own worst critics. We say things to ourselves that we never ever would say to someone else. 

Focus on what’s strong

Don’t you think that if people would focus on what’s good and strong and think less about what’s wrong we’d all be a little more content? Think about it. As a student teacher I learned that if I wanted to get a classroom of six-year-olds to lower their voices I would have greater success if I complemented the children who were using ‘inside voices’.

Using positive reinforcement worked like a charm! This technique works equally well with teenagers and adults. My mom used to say “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. I, in turn, used to tell my children “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. I still believe this to be true and practice what I preach!

Teaching people to recognize and celebrate their skills is one of the best things about my job as a professional organizer. 

Think before You Speak

It all boils down to the same thing, doesn’t it?  Saying something nice is just as easy as saying something nasty. It might take a little more thought and creativity to come up with the nicer comment as, it seems, the negative comments come so quickly to our lips.

We are quick to criticize not only ourselves but also the things in our environment. Think about the possibilities. How can we turn a situation around? What else can we do here? Is there something else to say to bring out the positive points of this situation? 

During his presentation at the virtual conference, Lee Shuer pointed out that it’s fine to take time when you are discovering a solution. Live with the problem, investigate possibilities, and focus on what’s strong.

Move On

During our virtual support group, Clear Space for You, Jonda and I point out to the participants the things they are doing well. We teach them how to focus on their strengths. Dr. Ryan Niemiec was another presenter at the 2021 ICD virtual conference. He had the attendees take a strength test. Dr. Niemiec told us there are 24 strengths. The test ranks the 24 strengths and lets you know which of the 24 are your top 5. This was truly fascinating.

For anyone, focusing on what is done wrong only serves to depress or dishearten the individual. This is not to say that things don’t go wrong sometimes but dwelling on those things is counter-productive.  We can look at what went wrong and see if there is a lesson to learn. Then we take the lesson, shift our perspective, and move on – letting the negative things be over and done. 

Create a Plan

When we focus on what’s strong, we can create a plan the client can use to move forward. We talk about their vision for each space. Then the client picks a project on which to focus. Whether we are working in-person or in the clutter support group, we break the project down into small manageable pieces. Then we review  their priorities. Finally, we create a plan and work methodically through the different spaces – celebrating each and every accomplishment along the way. This enables the de-cluttering to move forward all the while positively reinforcing and teaching organizing skills.

If over-collecting, chronic disorganization, or hoarding is something that is bothering you make a list of your strengths. Think about shifting your perspective away from what’s wrong and focus on what’s strong. You’ll be amazed by what you’ll discover and the possibilities this presents when you actively focus on your strengths. 

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia and co-owner of Release Repurpose Reorganize, LLC. Sign up to receive Diane’s newsletter for more tips.


  • Sheri Steed says:

    This is such a catchy phrase and such an important consideration. Focusing on the positive can have a powerful and transformative effect on success in all aspects of life.

  • Julie Bestry says:

    This reminds me of the idea of making a “sandwich” out of feedback. Start with the positive, note the negative, and then end with the positive. In other words, focus on what’s strong but note what’s wrong so that you can turn it around. I try to always tie what’s strong to a character trait in the client, and talk about what’s wrong in terms of a situational thing that can be turned around (with those same strengths). And I’ve taken that VIA strengths tests. Mine are Love, Humor, Love of Learning, Perspective, and Social Intelligence (the latter having recently bumped Honesty off the list; I originally took it early in the pandemic where I think I’d started to lose my social intelligence). Getting a sense of where a client’s strengths are will certainly help us support growth!

  • I love the positive reinforcement method. We need to realize that strength is a part of us too and we are more likely to use it than we are to forget about it. However, we tend to forget our strengths and only remember the faults we had. Reinforcing the positive is an excellent reminder for everyone especially those who are extra hard on themselves. Thank you for sharing this topic again.

  • Seana Turner says:

    It’s sort of an internal battle to make our thoughts about “strong” be louder than those about “wrong.” I love the way you compare these two words. Focus is really so important in the way we experience life. Shifting focus to our strengths is powerful, and can really improve our quality of life. I will always have things I don’t naturally do particularly well, and I can either ask for or hire help with those. At the same time, it is nice to try and “row downstream” as much as possible.

  • This is such an important message you deliver here- to live from your strengths. We’re human, so of course, none of us are strong in all ways. But when we live from leading with our strengths, we can use those to help us navigate the more challenging areas.

    I am a believer in looking at what’s working, but also at what’s NOT working or doesn’t feel right. I don’t consider that being negative. Instead, I approach the stickier areas with curiosity. Because as you said, they can lead us to learn. That’s what Carol Dweck talks/writes about- developing a growth mindset. So if we lead with our strengths and use our challenges as learning/growth opportunities, the lens of life changes dramatically…in a positive direction.

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