Being human is complicated. Being human in the era we are living in is even more so. I’ve been studying maturity for over a decade now, and I believe it is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate within ourselves to live a good life. In this era, I not only believe it’s important, but I’m also convinced it’s imperative for both the individual and the collective.
Our society is in dire need of more maturity right now.
And, my dear reader, it starts with us. Or, more accurately, it starts with those of us who are willing to look within and do the hard work required to lead ourselves and the other members of our species into a new way of living. We do this by working on ourselves first and then showing up in the world as a model of what we’d like to see.
Doing our inner work has enormous ripple effects. Just as emotional reactivity and foolishness are contagious, so are maturity and goodness. It is up to us to model what we wish to see more of in our relationships, communities, and culture at large. By being in the world differently, and by engaging fully with others in mature ways, we slowly yet surely influence the collective.
When a good portion of adults finally grow up, our society’s psychological and emotional climate will shift for the better.
Furthermore, maturity is a key ingredient to long-term physical, mental, emotional, professional, and social health and well-being. So, I offer you a few books to get you started (or continue) on your journey. Some reads are more academic, others more philosophical, and others more accessible. Take your time. Meditate on it. Contemplate. Take notes and pace yourself because:
Maturation is a lifelong, arduous journey, but it’s worth it, and the integrity and well-being of future generations of our species depend on it.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Don’t let the title fool you. This book is chock full of accessible wisdom on becoming more mature. Manson discusses a) learning how to take more responsibility for yourself, b) tolerating discomfort and adversity for growth, c) setting and maintaining boundaries in your relationships, d) clearly defining your values, and e) living a principle-based life. These are all things I believe to be essential to maturity and adulthood. Most importantly, he talks about learning how to direct your energies toward the things you decide most matter to you in your life.
The best part is that he does this in an accessible and humorous way, which makes for a fun read on an otherwise heavy topic. This book was a mega-bestseller for good reason. He delivered a message to culture (and the world) that is much needed right now, and shared it in a way that they could all hear it. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll get the message, too.
- “Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a f*ck about what’s truly f*ck-worthy.”
- “Not giving a f*ck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.”
- “There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerge. This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.”
- If you’re short on time or want an introduction to his work, he actually has an article on the same premise, which went viral and inspired the book in the first place.
- He has many other articles that are topical and fun reads as well, like this one on personal values, this one on understanding your emotions, and this one on growing from adversity. Check him out!
Growing Yourself Up by Jenny Brown
Brown does an amazing job of taking a complex theory and making it accessible for the reader and applicable in everyday life. The essence of the theory she draws from suggests we have an instinctual nature as humans that has been in the evolutionary making for millions of years. It takes hard work and intentional effort to override it, but doing so is required for maturation.
Additionally, our level of maturity has been passed down to us from multiple generations before us in our lineage. Because of this, it is through our relationships with our families, partners, and communities that we must do the hard work of growing up. Growing up requires that we define a separate sense of self. It requires that we live based on self-determined values and principles, instead of being swayed by our emotions or pressures from the group to conform.
- “Growing maturity, based on seeing the patterns of relationship we’re a part of, promotes more honesty, humility, and improved health for us and for those we care about.”
- “Each of us is part of a system of relationships that deeply influences each individual’s capacity for emotional resilience. Given that our original family has such a profound sway on the development of our maturity, it follows that going back to these formative relationships is the best laboratory in which to make positive changes.”
- “Genuine maturity for life starts with learning to observe ourselves in our relationships, and appreciating that problems are not just in the individual but also in the interconnections — the relationship systems — with others.”
- If you enjoy reading her book, check out her blog where she writes shorter pieces on these topics.
- For my extra ambitious readers or fellow theory nerds, if you want to dive deeper into the theory, check out the Family Systems Institute where Brown offers more learning resources as well as training opportunities.
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Ah, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Western master and proliferator of mindfulness studies and practices in America. He is quite the thinker and writer, too. Mindfulness is not about being peaceful and happy all the time, contrary to popular belief. The practice of mindfulness is actually intended to help humans cultivate awareness of their automatic nature.
With mindfulness, we can learn to become more aware, moment-to-moment, of our emotional reactivity, automatic thinking, and conditioned patterns of behavior. By becoming more aware, we can interrupt the automaticity and make more thoughtful choices in our daily lives. This, of course, is maturity 101. This book is rich with both theoretical wisdom and practical applications for the thinker and practitioner.
- “Automatic reactions triggered out of unawareness — especially when the circumstances are not life-threatening but we take them that way all the same — can compound and exacerbate stress, making what might have remained basically simple problems into worse ones over time. They can prevent us from seeing clearly, from solving problems creatively, and from expressing our emotions effectively when we need to communicate with other people or even understand what is going on within ourselves.”
- “A lifetime of unconscious and unexamined habitual reactivity to challenges and perceived threats is likely to increase our risk of eventual breakdown and illness significantly.”
- “At the heart of this paradigm-breaking perspective lies the conviction that it is essential for a person to engage in a personal, intensive, and systematic training of the mind through the discipline of meditation practice to free himself or herself from the incessant and highly conditioned distortions characteristic of our everyday emotional and thought processes, distortions that, as we have seen, can continually undermine the experiencing of our intrinsic wholeness.”
- “Knowing what you are doing while you are doing it is the essence of mindfulness practice.”
- This is a nearly 600-page read, but it is very possible to skip around chapters if that’s your thing. No need to read in order, but be sure not to miss chapters 17–20, which hit at the heart of cultivating maturity.
- If you’re open to it, take the complementary 8-week cohort course at the Brown Mindfulness Center.
Extraordinary Relationships by Dr. Roberta Gilbert
Dr. Gilbert draws from the same theory that Jenny Brown does in Growing Yourself Up, but this read is a bit more academic — and houses a bit more jargon. This might require the reader to learn some new vocabulary. But, I believe the theory that both of them draw from is the most important theory of our time that no one knows.
It is a grounded, living theory about human relationships and how humans are much more like nature than we are different from it (Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about this, too). In this book, you’ll learn how your maturity level is interconnected with that of the family you were born into. You’ll also learn how understanding where you came from will give you a map for how to work on your maturity going forward.
- “A life lived according to the principles of a thought-out inner guidance system has an entirely different quality, course, and outcome than a life lived according to guidance implicitly or explicitly set by the environment. This makes it possible to say no when that becomes appropriate. In other words, the effort toward [maturity] frees people from trying to be what they think others want them to be. At the same time, it allows them to remain in open contact with significant others in the emotional system, whether they hold the same beliefs or not.”
- “The guiding principles of [mature] individuals make it possible for them to be less concerned about what people think of them, whether or not they are loved, and how they appear to others. As mature adults, they no longer need parents or parental love, so they don’t have to spend their lives seeking nurturing from others. This fact alone relieves relationships of a great deal often put on them.”
- “People at higher levels of [maturity] are clear on and comfortable with their beliefs, standards, values, and priorities. This is what makes it possible to live a life based on principle rather than on emotions and relationships. At any given time, they have a fairly clear idea of what they believe, the evidence they used, and the logical process they went through to get there.”
- Start with an overview of the vocabulary and theoretical concepts in the appendices.
- If you get really into the theory, get her small, 100-page guidebook on it, The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory.
The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
This is one of those books I would consider a lifelong guide to understanding human nature. One of those books that you read over and over throughout the years, understanding the world and life just a bit more each time. This book has one big, yet basic premise: Humans have an irrational nature that we must learn to accept and master by intentionally cultivating our rational faculties.
It’s safe to say that this book is a philosophical monster and one of those challenging yet mind-blowing reads. Robert Greene is a deep thinker and he packs his books with years of research and preparation. Expect that it will take you an equal amount of years or more to metabolize this masterpiece. In doing so, you will have a greater understanding of your own nature and how to cultivate more maturity throughout life.
- “We tend to think of our behavior as largely conscious and willed. To imagine that we are not always in control of what we do is a frightening thought, but in fact it is the reality. We are subject to forces from deep within us that drive our behavior and that operate below the level of our awareness.”
- “Rationality is the ability to counteract emotional effects, to think instead of reacting. It does not come naturally; it is a power we must cultivate, but in doing so we realize our greatest potential.”
- “To this day, we humans remain highly susceptible to the moods and emotions of those around us, compelling all kinds of behavior on our part — unconsciously imitating others, wanting what they have, getting swept up in viral feelings of anger or outrage. We imagine we’re acting out of our own free will, unaware of how deeply our susceptibility to the emotions of others in the group is affecting what we do and how we respond.”
- “The future of the human race will likely depend on our ability to transcend this tribalism and to see our fate as interconnected with everyone else’s. We are one species, all descendants of the same original humans, all brothers and sisters. Our differences are mostly an illusion. Imagining differences is part of the madness of groups. We must see ourselves as one large reality group and experience a deep sense of belonging to it. To solve the man-made problems threatening us will require cooperation on a much higher level and a practical spirit missing from the tribe.”
- Check out his talk at Google on the book if you want a substitute or complement to reading the book.
- Do yourself the favor and marry your study of this book with the study of Bowen’s Natural Systems Theory.
A Final Note
In essence, maturity is a lot about coming to understand and harness our human nature, or the part of us that’s largely automatic and unconscious. At the same time, it’s about cultivating more of the part of us that is different from nature, or the part that’s able to deliberate and make conscious choices that are different from what the automatic programming would have had us do.
It’s about learning to direct our controllable energies so that they don’t run away with us. With this, we can take a step back from our reactivity and have more thoughtful and meaningful interactions with other human beings — no matter how different they are from us and no matter how intense the circumstances in the external environment are.
This starts with doing our individual internal work, for that is all we have control over. By doing our own inner work, we show up differently in the world, and because we are an interconnected species that’s constantly influencing one another:
Changing ourselves changes humanity.
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