Recognizing what we take for granted is not only a way to practice happiness but a surprising way to boost confidence every day.
During a renovation several years ago, we were fortunate to rent a friend’s vacant apartment close by. We got to enjoy extra amenities that I had coveted since we moved to New York City: an extra bedroom, an extra bathroom, a washer, and a dryer.
Close friends who saw our temporary digs said, “Uh-oh, you’re going to get spoiled.”
When we first moved in, the same thoughts ran through my head. I loved having the extra space, spreading out my work, and not needing to tidy it up before the kids got home. We could do laundry any time we wanted. I even indulged my younger daughter’s wardrobe whims (“Mommy, I want to wear my red twirly skirt, my lucky red tights, and my red shirt again tomorrow!”).
I enjoyed it all, but in the back of my mind, I was fearful of enjoying it too much.
What I took for granted
As time passed, however, I began missing my home. Small as it may be, it is mine. While it is certainly not perfect, it suits me. Over the course of our many years there, my apartment’s form has shaped my functioning and I have shaped my apartment to fit my movements.
Over time, my actions and movements within my home had become so ingrained that I took them for granted. It was only when we moved that I saw the disruptions in my habitual movements.
For example, in my temporary apartment:
- I was always looking for my keys. And, I locked myself numerous times. In my home, I placed hooks strategically so that when I walk in I hang up my keys before I shut the door.
- We missed most of our phone calls. Poor cell coverage is only part of the story. Despite owning three cordless landline handsets, I couldn’t hear the phones because the apartment was larger. Even after turning up the handset volume, I couldn’t get to them fast enough to answer in time.
- We are surrounded by laundry… both dirty and clean. With two small children, if I don’t do a load a day, the laundry gets totally backed up. Even when I mange to keep up, there are piles of unfolded clothes everywhere. I couldn’t seem to find a laundry rhythm. After many years of missing a washer and dryer, I missed doing all of our laundry once a week.
- Cooking was a noisy, frustrating activity. The cabinets and drawers were positioned and sized in ways that match neither the way I cook nor what I cook.
- It took longer to tidy up. My kids’ messes seem to have grown to fill the large apartment; it’s as if they are marking their new territory.
Needing to go against the grain (or our brains)
The message here is neither “careful what you wish for” nor about “sour grapes.” I don’t think it makes sense to feel guilty about wanting things. We all want things, and we all wish for a better life—it’s natural to do so. If someone were to give me an extra bedroom, I certainly would not turn it down!
In sharing this story, I want to convey how easy it is to take for granted what “works” in our lives. We are often unaware of what we do well because we do it out of habit or can do it “in our sleep.” Because we don’t notice our routines and natural rhythms, we take them for granted.
Just as we have the tendency to devalue what is abundant, we also have the tendency to put down what comes easy to us. This is how smart and caring women often don’t see the full value that they provide. It is easy to forget our talents and contributions. And, slowly we can lose confidence.
It’s far easier, on the other hand, to see what’s wrong. Our brains are wired to look for threats or what shouldn’t be.
For example, when we travel from point A to point B, we don’t stop to say, “The subway got me here on time!” or, “My car is in working condition!” We only notice when there is traffic or our mode of trasport breaks down.
How not to take yourself for granted
As a coach, I talk to many talented, caring women. It is striking how many of them must make a conscious effort to see what is “working” in their lives. Moreover, they often take their own strengths for granted.
Perhaps we would all feel more confident and satisfied if we were to practice going against the habitual nature of our brains to see what works rather than what is wrong. It may not be easy or feel natural, at first, but with practice, it is possible.
To get started, ask yourself some good questions.
- What can I do in my sleep or without thinking?
- What gives me energy?
- What activities make me lose track of time?
- What do I do that amazes other people?
- What activities make me feel strong or add lightness to my step?
Now that I’ve planted the seed in your mind, perhaps it will be easier for you to notice your strengths. When you do notice them, also take note of how that feels.
Don’t forget to let me know how it works out for you.
An older version of this article was first published in March 2017.