Cover picture stolen from

I’ve seen many books and classes regarding how to adult, such as this article about saving money. Here’s a synopsis: pretty words help people who need money figure out that there’s no magic money pill and then un-shames them for not saving money.

After all, it’s not their fault that the system is working against them. This fact may be very different than how their parents or teachers told them life works.

While this link purports to be about adulting, it’s more about limits and understanding a specific topic. Yes this information can help you adult, but it isn’t adulting, per se. Like so many things I’ve found on this topic, it missed the three things that truly matter.

Being an adult isn’t just about memorizing the steps to do things correctly, although procedures can help. Nor is it just about recognizing the limitations in your way.

Adulting is how you view and process life:

  • Think things through and plan your actions
  • Verify that action(s) serve you, including the action of allotting time to do things
  • Support yourself to improve instead of feeding the failure with demeaning self-talk

Once you have these three down, finding or figuring out the procedures is just another task. The result is that you’ll stay on track more, get more done, and feel a lot more relaxed and confident.

Too many people live with anxiety. A common anxiety trigger is not trusting your ability to deal with what comes at you. Having a process to deal with things, even things not yet on your radar, helps build this trust in yourself and your abilities.

What I’ve seen time and again is that those suffering anxiety were raised in emotionally stunted environments, including guardian(s) protecting children from growing up “too fast”. In either case, the child didn’t have a safe space to make mistakes while learning to adult, so now they can’t trust themselves to properly do adulting things.

Take Responsibility

This is truly the only adult behavior. The other two fine tune this one.

First and foremost, assume that you, and only you, are responsible for yourself.

Yeah, shit’s gonna happen to you that’s outside of your control. What you do with it, though, is on you. No, this doesn’t mean you have to figure out how to make gold out of loss. This type of manifesting is just a new religion keeping us little people in our place because we didn’t want something enough.

One thing you can control is how much time gets set aside to finish things. Let’s say you think it takes ten minutes to shower. When was this last verified? Is this just for the shower? Or also to pick out clothes, grab a towel, get the water running, actually showering, then drying off, getting dressed, shaving, and brushing your teeth?

As another example, if you have a doctor appointment at 11:15am, and your phone says it’s fifteen minutes away, you need to leave the house before 11am to get there on time.

Seriously. The doctor’s staff needs time to prep both your paperwork and an exam room.

It’s also going to take you time to get to the car, link your phone to the car, figure out which podcast or radio station to listen to, and set it up. And then put on your seatbelt, start the car, and leave the driveway.

Guess what? It’s also going to take time on the other end. Things like parking the car, getting up to the doctor’s office, and signing in.

Maps and GPS don’t take any of these non-driving tasks into account. Plus some apps update as conditions change, like when lunch traffic starts or an accident happens. In other words, the stated drive time may be obsolete by the time you actually leave.

An interesting thing happens when you start taking responsibility for yourself. The frequency of making excuses drops. And more gets done because you’ve already thought things through, and made sure everything needed is available and ready to use.

Hold Yourself Accountable

When saying what you’re going to do, especially if it’s to assist someone, you’re agreeing to do it in a responsible manner.

But what you say your decisions are might not actually be decisions. If you’re still figuring out who this adult is going to be, these statements might be more like wishful thinking, a way to appease someone, how you were taught to respond, or based on an instilled belief that served your parents taking care of a child.

You might believe you’ve decided and agreed to help out, but beneath the surface your brain is all like, “yuh huh, sure.” Then when it comes time to do so, you figure it’s ten minutes to shower and fifteen to drive over. Except that it takes ten minutes just to shower, not ncluding all the other stuff that goes with it. And by the time you leave, the drive time is a lot longer due rush hour, not even counting everything else such as finding parking.

Now you’re an hour and a half late, moaning and groaning about traffic conspiring against you, and feel an intense need to assure others that, yes, you did your best to be there on time. And then you realize that, oopsies, some of the supplies got left behind, and you can’t do what was promised, anyway.

But let’s see what happens when you hold yourself accountable. First off, you acknowledge that running behind is a thing you do. Maybe a lot. So you think about everything that needs to happen, and realize that ten minutes is just for the shower, and decide to triple it to accommodate all the other prepping activities. And being aware of all these other tasks helps you stay on track instead of standing in the nice hot shower thinking you have plenty of time.

Getting dressed is a breeze because clothes are already picked out. The drive over wasn’t too bad because it started before rush hour. Plus yesterday the gas tank got filled. Oh, and that stuff you’ll need was put it in the car last night..

Now you can walk into your friend’s home prepared to get stuff done, and you’re calm and relaxed because there was no oh-shit adrenaline rush.

One very important thing to realize here is that berating yourself for not being prepared does absolutely nothing to improve. Instead of rationally thinking through what could’ve been done better, time’s wasted making yourself feel bad. In other words, making a note to pad more time into showering is a lot more constructive than, “good job, dumbass, way to muck things up. Pretty soon you won’t have any friends at all because you’re such a loser.”

To keep your word, you hold yourself accountable to figure out how to do better next time, and ensure it happens.

Accept Outcomes

Actions are decisions in motion. Every action needs to be rationally assessed. If it isn’t toward fulfilling a goal, doing self-care, or supporting a promise or decision, why do it? Do these intentions need to be tweaked? Is a stronger accountability system needed?

Let’s take gaming. No, I’m not going to harp on gaming as a time waster, because a lot of folks use this time to connect with friends or as a brain cooldown. Knowing that gaming may be a form of self-care can help you rationally assess how much time to spend on it.

For example, if it’s to cool the brain off, 10-15 minutes ought to do it. If more is needed, then the game isn’t really helping. Do you need a different game or activity? Is your brain so full that some stuff needs to be offloaded to a computer or smartphone? Or have you been saying it’s self-care when in fact it’s an escape?

In other words, the

  • decision was to take care of yourself.
  • action was to play a game to relax.
  • outcome was that you couldn’t relax in a reasonable timeframe.
    This means at least one underlying assumption is off. Which, and how to address it?

As above, accepting the outcome and giving yourself the opportunity to assess what worked (and didn’t) is a whole lot better at improving future outcomes than berating yourself for playing a game. Or taking a nap. Or eating a Ghirardelli chocolate square.

Moving Forward

Adulting is a process to deal with everything life throws at you in a manner that builds competence and confidence. This means you:

  • Think things through and plan your actions
  • Verify that action(s) serve you, including the action of allotting time to do things
  • Support yourself to improve instead of feeding the failure with demeaning self-talk

Intellectually this may sound simple. But it can be a lot of hard work to get into the adulting habit. And because it’s a process, it’s going to happen every day for the rest of your life, which can feel daunting.

So start slow. Maybe jot down when things were done, which can later be used to verify how long common tasks take. Or maybe hijack demeaning thoughts every once in awhile to turn them into something helpful.

Change can be uncomfortable. Waiting to feel ready will likely mean it never starts. It’s a lot more common to ease into the change, testing some new habits in order to become comfortable.

The good news is that this process is truly all about you. This personal journey starts however you choose. If this step isn’t working out, you get to be an adult just by picking a different one!