Have you ever been told any of the following?
“Don’t be such a child.”
“You’re such a baby.”
“What are you, 8?”
“Please grow up!”
If you’ve been on the receiving end of these phrases often, chances are, you’ve been displaying immature behaviors. No adult likes to be seen as immature.
In this article, we’ll break down the concept of maturity, differentiate it from immaturity, and list how you can act more mature.
Maturity can be defined as displaying adult-like behaviors. Immaturity, then, is not displaying behaviors that adults typically display. In other words, being immature is displaying behaviors that children typically display.
I say ‘typically’ because you’re bound to find some outliers in both groups. Children who act maturely and adults who act immaturely.
Broadly, maturity has two types:
- Intellectual = Intellectual maturity is thinking like an adult, which is reflected in your words and actions.
- Emotional = Emotional maturity is all about being emotionally aware and intelligent. It’s reflected in your healthy relationship with yourself and others.
Why be more mature?
If you’ve been called immature before, there’s a good chance you’re struggling in your career and relationships. The behaviors of children are best suited for childhood. Children have limited intellectual and emotional capacities.
As children go through the various stages of cognitive development, they become more and more cognitively and emotionally advanced. When they become adults, they acquire the skills required to navigate adult life.
Of course, this is only true of normal, healthy development. Not all go through this healthy psychological development. Case in point: people who are kids trapped in adult bodies.
Freud aptly defined maturity as the ability to love and work.1
People who can love and work provide value to society. So, they’re respected and admired. They have tons of experience and insight that they can share with the younger members of society.
In short, coming off as immature is not good. You instinctively know this, or you wouldn’t get so upset when someone called you immature.
To do well in life, you have to be mature. You have to help people and treat them well. You have to become a valuable member of society. This is the way to raise self-esteem.
Self-esteem isn’t raised by looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re enough (What does that even mean?). It’s raised through contribution.
Balancing maturity and immaturity
Given what we’ve discussed so far, it’s tempting to think that all behaviors associated with children are bad. This is not true.
If you discard all your childlike tendencies, you’ll become too serious and a boring adult. People will tell you to take it easy. If you stay immature like a child without developing any maturity, you’ll be told to grow up.
You have to hit that sweet spot between immaturity and maturity. The ideal strategy is to discard all the bad behaviors associated with children and retain the positive ones.
If you can retain the childlike curiosity, creativity, humor, willingness to make mistakes, being excited and experimental, terrific.
These are all excellent traits to have. But because these are associated with children, you still need to balance them with the right dose of maturity, or people won’t respect you.
When they show excitement (a childlike trait), a famous entrepreneur or artist is hailed as a genius.
“Look at him! How excited he is about his idea. We’re so lucky to have him!”
“Thank God he has preserved his inner child. Not many can do this.”
If a regular person shows the same level of excitement, they’re called ‘crazy’ and ‘immature’:
“It’s not going to work. Grow up!”
“Why are you getting so excited like a child about this? You’re just making castles in the air.”
The famous entrepreneur or artist has already proven himself. He’s already shown that he’s reliable and responsible like an adult through his success. His success-induced maturity balances his immaturity.
The regular person has nothing to balance his immaturity with.
Similarly, it’s very endearing to see 70- or 80-year-olds rocking to some heavy metal in their car. We know they’re mature enough, having lived so many years. They can slip some immaturity in without appearing too immature.
If a 30-year-old were to get overly excited about the new music album he just bought, you can’t help but feel that he needs to act a bit more mature.
How to be more mature: Discarding childish traits
While some positive behaviors are associated with children, there are a whole lot that are negative and need to be discarded by adults. The goal is to do the opposite of what children do.
I’ll now list the different ways to act more maturely, contrasting them with the immature behaviors of children when I can.
1. Think mature thoughts
It all starts with the mind. It’ll reflect in your words and actions if you think about serious, deep, and mature things. The highest level of thinking is thinking about ideas. That quote that goes something like, “Great minds discuss ideas; small minds discuss people” is on point.
Children hardly think about profound ideas. They’re more concerned about what their friends tell them in school. They’re more interested in gossip and rumors.
2. Control your emotions and actions
Mature people have reasonable control over their emotions. They hardly do things under the influence of intense emotion. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel strong emotions. We all do. They’re just better than the average person at managing those emotions.
They take the time to think about the consequences of their actions. They don’t flip out or have public outbursts.
Immature people, like children, hardly have control over their emotions and actions. They have no problems throwing tantrums in public.
3. Develop emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is all about being emotionally aware and understanding emotions. Mature people tend to be in touch with their own and others’ emotions. This allows them to be empathetic and understand the needs of others.
Children can display empathic behaviors, but their selfishness often overrides their empathy. They’re egocentric and tend to put their needs first. They want that new toy no matter what.
4. Hang with mature people
Personality rubs off. You are who you hang out with. You may have noticed that when you get close to and start to hang with this new person who’s not like you, you become like them over time.
Spending time with people who’re more mature than you is probably the easiest way to become mature. It’ll happen automatically, and you’ll feel like you didn’t have to put in any effort.
5. Be purposeful
Adults tend to be purposeful in what they do. One of the most prominent signs of maturity is knowing where you’re going in life. As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind”. Not beginning with the end in mind is a recipe for being pushed around in different directions and not reaching your destination.
Children don’t seem to have a purpose in what they do because they’re still experimenting and learning.
6. Be persistent
After you’ve begun with the end in mind, the next mature thing to do is be persistent until you reach your goal.
Immature people and children pick one thing, drop it and then pick another.
7. Be patient
Patience and persistence go together. You can’t be persistent without being patient. Your inner child wants things now!
“Give me that candy now!”
Realizing that some things take time and delaying gratification are the strongest signs of maturity.
8. Build your own identity
A natural consequence of going through the different psychological development stages is that you build an identity for yourself. Not the one your parents or society try to develop for you, but your own.
‘Building an identity’ sounds vague, I know. It means that you know who you are and what you want. You know your strengths, weaknesses, purpose, and values.
Children are more or less the same because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to build their own identity (that first happens in teenage). It’s rare to find a child with unique interests and personalities.
9. Listen more, talk less
In a world where people can’t stop blurting out their opinions on everything, you come across as more mature when you weigh what you say. When you listen more, you understand more. Being understanding is a sign of intellectual maturity.
Children keep yapping about things all day, often having no clue what they’re talking about.
10. Learn socially appropriate behaviors
Maturity is knowing what to say and when. Being silly and making jokes with friends is okay, but don’t do that in a serious situation like a job interview or a funeral. Mature people can ‘read the room’ and sense the dominant mood of the group.
As any parent would confirm, teaching kids socially appropriate behaviors is one hell of a job.
11. Treat others respectfully
Mature people have the basic human decency to treat others respectfully. They’re respectful by default and expect others to be the same. They don’t raise their voice at others and don’t humiliate them in public.
12. Don’t threaten people
Mature people influence and persuade others to get what they want. Immature people threaten and bully others. Maturity is realizing that others can choose as they wish and not impose your demands on them.
Children keep demanding things from their parents, sometimes resorting to emotional blackmail.
13. Accept criticism
Not all criticism is laden with hatred. Mature people understand the importance of criticism. They see it as invaluable feedback. Even if the criticism is laden with hatred, maturity is being okay with it. People have a right to hate who they want.
14. Don’t take things personally
Most of the things you take personally aren’t meant to be attacks. Always stop and investigate further before you take things personally. Usually, people don’t wake up every day to hurt others. They have their own motives for doing what they do. Maturity is trying to figure out those motives.
Children are selfish and think the world revolves around them. So do adults who take everything personally.
15. Acknowledge your mistakes and apologize
Maturity is giving up the need to always be right. We all make mistakes. The sooner you own them, the better everyone will be for it.
The instant response of children when they’re caught is something like, “I didn’t do it. My brother did it.” Some people carry this “I didn’t do it” mentality right into adulthood.
16. Become self-reliant
Adults are people who take on responsibilities. They do things for themselves and help the younger folk. If you don’t do things for yourself and don’t develop life skills, you’re likely to feel and come across as less of an adult.
17. Develop assertiveness
Assertiveness is standing up for yourself and others without being aggressive. Being submissive or aggressive is easy, but being assertive takes skill and maturity.
18. Quit being an attention seeker
Attention seekers can’t stand it when someone steals their attention. They do outrageous things like posting deeply personal or shocking stuff on social media to get attention.
Of course, children do all kinds of crazy things to get attention.
Adult criminals who make mischief are no different. They want to be in the media’s attention constantly. The same goes for celebrities who keep doing shocking and controversial things.
19. Free yourself from optimism bias
Being positive is excellent, but mature people steer clear of blind hope. They don’t have any unrealistic expectations of themselves or others.
Children are bubbling with irrational hope.2
20. Avoid complaining and blaming
Mature people understand that complaining and blaming solve nothing. They push through their problems with strategy and action. They’re like, “Okay, what can we do about this?” instead of wasting time on things they can’t control.
21. See things from others’ perspective
Perhaps the most adult of all adult traits is the ability to see things from the vantage point of others. People are prone to actor-observer bias, which states that we cannot see things from others’ perspectives because we’re not in their heads.
But it’s not hard to overcome if you try. You only have to put yourself in their shoes.
Children don’t even know that others have a mind of their own until about three years of age.
People must be reminded to see things from others’ perspectives, revealing that our default psychology is geared to only care about our vantage point.
22. Have a win-win mindset
Mature people understand that they can’t get far by exploiting others. They generally approach business, relationships, and life with a win-win mindset. Maturity is being fair to yourself and others.
23. Develop intellectual humility
Modesty is a mature trait. While being modest in many things is easy, being intellectually humble isn’t easy.
People get easily attached to their ideas and opinions. They’ll make progress in other life areas, but rarely will they make any mental progress.
Intellectual humility is knowing that you don’t know. It’s being receptive to new information if it contradicts the information you already hold in your mind.
24. See the bigger picture
Mature people try to see the bigger picture of things. They don’t have strong opinions on things. They’re comfortable with the contradictions and complexities of the world.
They don’t rush to take sides in a fight or an argument. They understand where both parties are coming from.
25. Handle failures like a pro
Mature people give themselves permission to fail and make mistakes. They understand that failure is feedback.
They don’t make a big deal of their mistakes because they know humans are prone to making mistakes. They fall, rub the dirt off their shirts, and move on.
- Hogan, R., & Roberts, B. W. (2004). A socioanalytic model of maturity. Journal of Career Assessment, 12(2), 207-217.
- Bjorklund, D. F. (1997). The role of immaturity in human development. Psychological bulletin, 122(2), 153.