Do you know how to be more mature or what maturity even means?
If you've ever hung around a toddler or a teenager for any length of time, you know what immaturity looks like.
If the toddler doesn't get her way, she might scream, stomp, and fall on the floor in a fit of rage and frustration.
Toddlers have few filters preventing them from expressing their inner worlds in a dramatic fashion.
Teenagers have more filters but still don't have a fully-formed prefrontal cortex, the brain's rational thinking arena.
Teens may not fall on the floor in a fit, but they might scream, slam doors, pout, or use passive-aggressive and manipulative tactics to achieve their goals. It takes them a while to learn how to act maturely.
What Makes Someone Mature?
It isn't until we are about 25-years-old that our brains are fully developed, and we're capable of understanding consequences, using sound judgment, and practicing more mature behavior.
Parental training, cognitive development, trial and error, and role models all contribute to helping us grow in maturity and wisdom.
Acting maturely includes:
- Being sensitive and considerate towards others.
- Recognizing, understanding, and managing your emotions and those of others.
- Having the ability to change and adapt to circumstances.
Unfortunately, turning 25 doesn't guarantee a person will automatically become a mature person.
I'm sure you've witnessed many 40-somethings or even 60-somethings who behave like children. Maybe you have someone like this in your life right now.
We all have pockets of immature responses and behaviors that can be triggered in certain situations or within our close relationships.
It's valuable for all of us to be honest with ourselves about our own immature behaviors and work on learning how to be more mature.
Improving maturity can . . .
- Increase your level of self-awareness, so you better understand your emotions;
- Help you regulate your emotions and express them appropriately;
- Help you learn from your mistakes, so you don't repeat them;
- Help you recognize what is good and bad for you;
- Help you achieve more success in school and your career;
- Allow you to be more empathetic and compassionate to others;
- Sharpen your social skills through improved communication;
- Help you create appropriate boundaries with others;
- Boost your self-confidence, as you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
Make it your aim to continue to cultivate and grow in being emotionally mature so you can become more successful, confident, and happier in life.
How to Be Mature: 13 Key Steps
1. Pay attention.
Start by noticing areas in your life where you tend to have difficulty with being mature.
This awareness can be the most difficult step, as most of us don't want to acknowledge how we might be acting childishly.
But awareness is the first step toward change. So take a deep breath and try to be completely honest with yourself.
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Think about the immature behaviors you've noticed in others to see if you consistently engage in any of these.
Make notes about any behaviors you don't like in yourself or that you notice others pointing out in you frequently.
2. Be aware of triggers.
There may be certain situations or people who trigger less than mature responses from you.
Maybe it's something your spouse says that makes you defensive or the way you revert back to allowing your mom to baby you when you visit your parent's home.
Understanding what triggers immature behaviors can help you change. Think about why the situations or people trigger these responses in you.
- Does it go back to an event in your childhood?
- Did you never learn a more mature response in these situations?
- Do you feel entitled to indulging your reactions, even when you know they aren't mature?
Once you have a better idea of why you are triggered, think about ways you can respond differently.
You may need support from a counselor to deal with any old wounds from the past that are holding you back and preventing you from changing your reactions and responses.
3. Avoid the blame game.
As the saying goes, “Reality bites.” It's uncomfortable to deal with the challenges, disappointments, and difficulties that life presents us.
An immature person rails at reality and tends to blame the world for his or her circumstances. They will avoid, deny, or complain without taking appropriate action.
But being mature requires that we accept reality and work with it.
Rather than whining and moaning about our “bad luck,” we deal with the situation at hand, managing it the best way we know how, and then we can move on with the knowledge that we've done our best.
4. Practice personal responsibility.
Between an event and your response to it is that brief moment when you decide how you will react.
By claiming your power to choose how you respond to life, you can jump off the treadmill of unconscious reactions.
Will you react automatically, giving up your personal power to a knee-jerk reaction?
Or can you break the negative pattern of immature responses and create new, more emotionally intelligent responses that align with who you want to be?
5. Define your ideal self.
Who do you want to be in this life? What kind of parent, spouse, friend, sibling, co-worker, adult child, and neighbor do you want to be?
- How would you like to treat others?
- What kind of words do you want to use?
- How do you want to respond to life challenges?
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You can't fully act mature until you define what that means for you.
Sit down with a pen and paper, and write down exactly what you want from yourself in your relationships and in various life situations (the positive and the negative).
You may not be able to achieve your ideal all of the time (we are human, after all), but you now have an ideal worth aspiring to.
When you fall short, forgive yourself quickly. Offer forgiveness to others if needed. Then move on.
6. Define your integrity.
Part of creating your ideal self is knowing what integrity means for you.
Life is so full of mixed messages and conflicting views of right and wrong and good and bad.
You may have adopted your parents' value system or borrowed your sense of integrity from your peers.
This is a common fallback position, as many of us don't take time to look within ourselves and ask the important questions about what our own guiding principles should be.
Often we are presented with decisions about our integrity the moment we come face to face with a situation that demands a particular response from us.
Rather than waiting for this moment to force our hands into a response that may not reflect our integrity, be proactive by determining your ethical and moral principles in advance.
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Then you'll be ready to respond authentically when the occasion arises.
7. Practice self-discipline.
One important part of maturity and responsibility is following through, doing what you say, and being a reliable person.
This behavior requires delaying gratification and doing things you may not enjoy simply because you said you would do them.
Following through on difficult or boring endeavors requires some level of self-discipline. Self-discipline is a muscle you can develop with practice.
Start by challenging yourself to do one or two small things every day that you know you need to accomplish but don't feel like doing.
As you push through these challenges, the actions will get easier because you are developing a habit that doesn't require so much mental effort.
8. Prioritize the “we” in relationships.
Our maturity often flies out the window in our close relationships.
We are more prone to lose our tempers, say unkind things, and act in childish ways with the people we love the most. This behavior is particularly evident with our spouses or intimate partners.
Immature people tend to prioritize the “me” rather than the “we” in their relationships.
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They want to win every argument and make sure their own needs are met, even if it causes disconnection and a loss of intimacy as a couple.
For a relationship to thrive, you must put the health of the relationship above your own frustrations, wants and needs.
You must learn to communicate in a way that doesn't jeopardize the strength of the relationship and find ways to be cooperative rather than competitive. And that leads to the next strategy.
9. Learn good communication skills.
Even for the most mature people, communicating in a healthy, productive way can be a challenge — especially in our most intimate and significant relationships.
Mature people prioritize the value of their relationships and choose to learn how to communicate in ways that foster mutual understanding, respect, trust, and kindness.
They seek mutually beneficial resolutions during a conflict and learn how to speak in ways that don't trigger hurt feelings, anger, or resentment.
You need to practice compassion, forgiveness, and understanding and seek out a win-win solution during a conflict.
10. Focus on something bigger than yourself.
A big part of developing maturity is operating in the world with the spirit of compassion, kindness, love, and service.
The less focused you are on your own problems, complaints, and challenges, the more inner peace and happiness you'll experience in life.
Find an endeavor that allows you to focus less on yourself and more on serving, enlightening, helping, giving, and contributing in some way.
You don't have to save the world — just find something you feel passionate about that allows you to leave a legacy of some kind.
Says Buddhist teacher and author Jack Kornfield, “Part of spiritual and emotional maturity is recognizing that it's not like you're going to try to fix yourself and become a different person. You remain the same person, but you become awakened.”
As you endeavor to improve your level of maturity, you awaken more and more to the person you really are underneath the ego, life experiences, and old habits that have clouded your perceptions and reactions to life.
Once you are fully grown up and conscious, your world will open up in ways you never expected.
11. Consciously choose your beliefs.
When you consciously choose what you believe — rather than cling to inherited beliefs or those held by people you look up to — you’re more likely to know why you believe what you do.
You’re also better able to defend those beliefs when others call them into question.
If, on the other hand, you’ve adopted a belief without giving it much thought, a simple question like “Why do you believe that?” feels like persecution — or a trap.
Those who carefully consider and choose their own beliefs are usually calmer and more confident in defending them. They’ve already debated the issues themselves.
And if they honestly don’t know what they believe about something, they’re more likely to admit that without feeling attacked or ashamed.
12. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Mature people aren’t afraid of being vulnerable with others. They can admit their own weaknesses and struggles.
And if they think that by doing so they can make someone else feel less alone, they consider it well worth the risk of humiliation.
Immature people tend to hide their inner mess from others to protect themselves from the humiliation or predatory behavior they expect.
Whatever weaknesses they perceive in themselves, they do their best to keep secret.
They might also divert attention from themselves to someone else by spreading rumors. And when they do want attention, they’ll do their utmost to control the narrative.
13. Forgive others (and yourself).
When you hold onto anger over an injury from the past — thinking it gives you power over the person you refuse to forgive — you freeze your emotional growth. And you gain nothing but misery.
Maturity demands a big picture view of life. And that view is incompatible with self-righteous anger.
If you’re holding a grudge, you’re unlikely to wish the offender anything but suffering.
But in doing so, you wish the same on yourself. And that suffering doesn’t take long in coming.
With forgiveness, though, you choose to focus your thoughts on a good outcome for the other; and in doing so, you bring the same blessings down on yourself.
You also free yourself from the grip of that anger, which gives you the strength to continue growing.
Mature People Work on Being More Mature
We all revert to knee-jerk reactions and childish behaviors from time to time. Even those who are wise beyond their years or who are known to be patient and discerning slip up on occasion.
Some of us have areas in which acting maturely is particularly difficult. Certain people, situations, or challenges bring out the adolescent in us, and we say or do things we later regret.
Developing maturity is a lifetime endeavor. Once you reach adulthood, you should know what it means to be mature, and hopefully, you embrace the value of mature actions. But you'll need to continue to practice maturity until it becomes a guiding force in all you do.