used to think that once I became an adult, I’d be spared the frustration of having to navigate knee-jerk reactions and passive aggressive remarks that some people define as “communicating”. I longed for the day that people stopped obsessively worrying about being liked or looking good enough. I craved conversation that wasn’t limited to negative criticism or gossiping about other people. But as it turns out, being a legal adult and being a mature adult are two very different things. Being a mature adult means that we make the choice for how much drama we participate in, and whether or not we’re the ones who cause it. Another valuable lesson I’ve come to learn is that our personal growth doesn’t halt unless we stop it. There are always ways in which we can expand upon our knowledge, skills, and experiences. So with that in mind, here are 5 habits that I’ve been focusing on increasing in my life — things I’d argue are real trademarks of being an adult and of which we could all practice a little more of these days. (And yes, they all somehow start with the letter A.)
Say sorry without making it personal. It’s important to understand that when someone is upset with us, it doesn’t bear an impact on our level of self-worth. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t to be held accountable for upsetting someone else. It’s important to recognize that a real apology is owning up to where we could’ve behaved better towards someone else. It’s not about alleviating the guilt that resulted from that person being upset with us. And we can’t force the other person to forgive us, we can only do our best to rectify the situation and learn from it.
Never use the word “but”. A sincere apology comes when we see the issue in its entirety and would do things differently if we faced it again. Maybe being “right” is not as important as repairing the relationship. Or maybe we’ve conceded that we were wrong in our behavior and wish we hadn’t done or said whatever offended the other person. Irrespective of our reasoning, when we say “I’m sorry, but…” we’re negating the whole apology altogether.
Avoid having to justify and rationalize. We all have a reason for our behavior. And even if that reason is legitimate, it doesn’t mean that someone’s feelings aren’t hurt and that an apology isn’t warranted. It also doesn’t mean that our reasoning will be valid to the person who’s upset. The focus should be less on why we did something, and more on what’s transpired as a result of the situation — focusing primarily on repairing the severed bond.
Say thank you. A lot. Whether it’s for an act of service, a gift, or simply someone’s presence in our lives — it’s crucial not only to foster gratefulness but also to communicate our gratitude with a simple “thank you”. Reason being, feeling appreciated strengthens our relationships and validates the hard work we do for others. It’s also the easiest way to tell someone that who they are and what they do matters to us. Vocalizing our appreciation is important even if we don’t need the help — it’s equally as much about the value of another person as it is about what they’ve done for us.
Find the merit of small victories. Some days will look like nothing more than hard work. That’s okay. We’re not performing sub par if we’re not running marathons, winning promotions or saving the world on any given Tuesday. Our experiences wax and wane, so when things quiet down and it feels like not much is happening amidst the redundancies of everyday life, we can stay patient and focus on small victories. Even if that means appreciating a lack of stress and illness, or simply welcoming the status quo.
Seek the good in everyone. Each person on this earth can have at least one redeeming quality, even though it can get overshadowed by their less-than-desirable ones. When we seek out just one good thing about someone else, we’re more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt and approach them with empathy. It improves our interactions with others, and it increases the ease by which we navigate our relationships. We are not required to like everyone we meet, but we can meet everyone with a certain degree of kindness.
Address it the moment it starts. When an issue arises in our lives, whether personal or interpersonal in nature, it’s important for us to deal with it promptly and not wait until it becomes a full-blown crisis. We can choose to acknowledge it the moment we know that something doesn’t feel right. By approaching it in this light, we’re minimizing the likelihood that the issue snowballs and we end up worse for wear. We are also choosing not to avoid it for the simple sake of avoiding conflict, it because we all know that ignoring something only prolongs and compounds the inevitable.
Focus on the root of the cause. If you cut something at the stem it will likely grow back. As mature adults, we have the responsibility to dig deeply into the root of our issues and patterns in order to resolve them thoroughly the first time. It saves us time and energy, two resources we that are far too scarce in today’s world. Although it may seem like a lot of work at the onset, dealing with things comprehensively ensures that we don’t repeat the same lesson over and over again, with different names and in different places.
Speak to the elephant in the room. Do you know what happens when awkward things that should get discussed don’t get talked about? They erupt three years later out of the blue. It’s usually at the wrong place, at an inopportune time and (trust me!) in a much more awkward fashion. It takes confidence and strength in order to be vulnerable and discuss uncomfortable topics. But the thing is, what we choose to run from always chases after us . So when there’s an elephant in the room, instead of tip toeing around it why don’t we call it like it is and ask it to please make some space?
Surrender to what is. To surrender to something doesn’t mean that we have to submit or succumb. It simply suggests that in order to deal with something efficiently, we have to accept it. Although that sounds rather simplistic, it’s often difficult for people to see things as they are. We unconsciously approach situations with how we think they should be and what they say about us, which suggests we’ve embedded our own meaning into external things that are likely outside of our realm of control. Surrendering means letting something be, removing our biases and identities from what it reveals, and approaching it without overly attaching ourselves to its outcome.
Change what you can. As humans, we only have control over our inner selves. We cannot force another person, circumstance or event into submission for very long. And we must have enough trust in ourselves and the way of the world to know that nothing depends on us to control it. We can allow ourselves to be okay with what we cannot change, and focus our energy instead on what we can: taking care of ourselves, learning, practicing kindness and empathy, finding the motivation for accomplishment, introducing a new idea into the world, etc. Anything else and we’re just a hamster in a wheel — no further along, and really tired out.
Deal with it as it is. When we surrender to what is, we can finally approach it as it is. We no longer embed our sense of self into whether or not we can “fix” a problem — or whether it’s even a problem in the first place. It’s about admitting that there are some things we cannot change, and that’s more than okay. We’re not supposed to be perfect, and life isn’t always going to be fair. The world spins madly on with or without us, and it does so whether we accept this fact or not. All we can do is the best that we can with what we have and know at the time. And that has to be enough.
Fail without finding identity in it. Failure is inevitable; learning to foster resiliency in the face of failure is a choice. We can’t protect ourselves from never messing up, but we can mess up royally if we are unprepared and unable to cope when things don’t go as planned. It’s about knowing that hard work beats talent in the end, and with that in mind we can always work harder and learn more in order to avoid falling down the same way next time.
Succeed without self-sabotaging. Some of us get so accustomed to sour times that we’re unable to adjust when life goes well. Without realizing it, we create conflict or seek drama in order to hold onto something familiar. Think about it: just because chaos is comfortable, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. And if our “normal” isn’t healthy, we may self-sabotage in order to return to the former role we know well and feel in control of. It’s okay to be happy, and it’s okay to be sad. Neither one is a permanent state, and they don’t define who we are, simply what we’re experiencing.
Expand and explore gifts and hobbies. We are not limited to one career, lifestyle, or identity. Humans are complex creatures and our lives become richer the more we invest in our various passions. What we love to do and what we went to school for may be two very different things. We may never shape our careers around what we’re passionate about, nor are we required to even make a profit off of our hobbies. The point is to allow ourselves to be multifaceted and not be pigeonholed. If we limit our whole identities to one thing, we’re at its total mercy should it leave us. We could lose our jobs, get broken up with, or find ourselves injured or sick and be unable to fulfill the roles we once did. When we allow ourselves more than one dimension, we have the hard work and skill set to fall back on if Plan A falls through. Being a mature adult is about fostering the necessary skills and habits to properly care for ourselves. It means taking responsibility for our actions, supporting ourselves financially, and fostering enough independence to recognize where we end and where someone else begins.
To grow up and mature is to gather a cluster of life experiences that, when approached mindfully, can eventually culminate into a solid sense of self. This emotional growth can provide the level of awareness required in order to contribute to society, navigate social relationships with ease, and carve out our own personal fulfillment while we’re here. So let’s make the best of it while we can, shall we?
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