How to Grow Up Between 20 and 60 Years Old

by Debbie L. Kasman in ,

Studies show that we grow up quite naturally until about the age of twenty.  Then, for reasons that are not terribly well understood, we simply stop growing.  We remain at whatever psychological level of development we reached in our early twenties until the age of sixty or so, and then we start growing up again. 

Very few people actually grow up to the point of self-actualization.  Currently only five percent of the world’s population is self-actualized or "fully" grown.  

There are things we can do between the ages of twenty and sixty to ensure we grow up fully.  We need to do these things to become the very best version of ourselves we can be. 

The single most important thing we can do to grow up is to learn about the different developmental levels we all grow up through. These are called structures of consciousness. By learning about the structures of consciousness, it helps trigger the growing up process. (They become psychoactive in our mind. The structures are described at the end of this article.) 

We can also spend time taking different perspectives.  Ultimately, consciousness is the ability to take and see different perspectives.  The more perspectives we can take, the more conscious we are.  At the higher end of the developmental spectrum, we are able to integrate and take multiple perspectives.  Building our capacity to expand our awareness comes with taking the role of "other" regularly. It's much like building our physical muscles.  In order to practice taking different perspectives, decide whose perspective you are going to take.  Imagine that you are this person and take their point of view.  What does the world look like from this person's perspective?  What does it feel like to be this person?  Maintain this perspective for several minutes and practice this several times a day.   

We also need to practice meditation to help us grow up.  Studies show that adults will only move a quarter of one developmental level through exercise, coaching, therapy, or other practices on their own but when combined with meditation twice a day for four years, adults move an average of two full stages of growth. Meditation is the only technique that’s been demonstrated to grow human beings a full developmental level beyond the age of twenty.

Research also shows that if we combine meditation with yoga (or some other type of energy work like karate or tai chi) and weightlifting, we grow up surprisingly quickly.  There is something about meditation, energy work and weightlifting combined that is critical to the growing up process.

We also have to do shadow work.  Shadows are when you see in other people the very thing you yourself have but are unwilling to see in yourself.  We have to recognize our shadows, and re-own and re-integrate them instead of denying them or projecting them onto other people.  When we re-own and re-integrate our shadow elements, we eliminate our own negative behaviours. 

It's possible to have collective shadows against entire cultures and even genders.  This is extremely dangerous.  When we have collective shadows against other cultures or genders, we vilify them, threaten to build walls, put them in concentration camps, and drop bombs on them.  To assist with shadow work, for a minimum of five minutes each day, journal about elements that might be controlling your behaviour.  Reflect on the question, "How am I lying to myself?  Or consider doing something called the 3-2-1 Process. 

Different developmental psychologists have different names for the structures of consciousness we all grow up through.  I’m going to share Ken Wilber's model with you. (Robert Kegan, an American psychologist from the Harvard Graduate School of Education has an excellent model, too.)

We are all born into the Infrared or Crimson level.  At this level of development, survival is our basic priority, we can’t easily distinguish where our body starts and our bed stops, we believe that our self is one with the environment, and we cannot distinguish our emotions from the emotions of the people around us, particularly our mother.  (Emotional distinction happens around 16 months of age.  This is an infant’s sense of itself as a separate self.  It’s called the psychological birth of the infant.)  Some adults remain at the Infrared level throughout their entire life.  It’s generally because there is some sort of developmental disability, brain damage or difficulty that keeps them at this lower level of development.  The elderly who are senile revert to this developmental level as do late-stage Alzheimer’s patients.  People who are mentally ill and living on the street revert to this developmental level, too.

The next level of development is Magenta.  This stage begins around the age of two and we begin to have emotional-feeling capacity.  We become in touch with our feelings but we also become impulsive.  A healthy sex drive begins here (yes it’s true) as well as a healthy fantasy life.  Instinctual emotions also develop here like anger, lust, and jealousy.  If there is a psychological trauma at this stage, it can result in very serious narcissistic and borderline personality disorders because the self’s boundary is so fragile at this stage.  Some people remain at this developmental level throughout their entire life.       

The next level is Red and it begins around the age of four.  Everyone at this level has an emerging attitude or belief that says, “I am distinct from you.”  The self at this stage of development is dominant, impulsive, and egotistical.  We enjoy ourselves to the fullest without showing any regret or remorse (think aging rock star) and we learn to be conceptual thinkers at this stage, too.  (This is the ability to understand a situation or a problem by identifying patterns or connections.)  But mostly we are overly concerned with ourselves, with power, and with our own safety.  Our prisons today are full of individuals who are at this egocentric self-protective power level.  They see the world as a very dangerous place full of powerful people and they want to be powerful, too.

The Amber level is next.  It typically begins between the ages of seven and twelve.  At this level we can take the role of other (a second-person perspective).  We can understand and follow rules.  We fit into a group and feel a sense of belonging.  We follow a code of conduct based on unwavering absolutes of right and wrong.  We believe what our religion tells us absolutely and fundamentally (if we are religious).  People at this level believe the Bible, the Quran, or the Talmud literally.  They believe it is the word of God.  They believe Moses really did part the Red Sea, Elijah really did go to heaven in his chariot, Christ really was born of a biological virgin and there is no questioning these things.  Overall, this is the level of traditional family values and conformist, conventional ethics.  This stage is extremely common in adults today.  About forty percent of the population of the United States is at this developmental level and about fifty to sixty percent of the world’s population.  Rural communities are often at this level, too.  The agrarian Midwest in the United States has a very high percentage of fundamentalist believers.

The Orange level is next.  It begins in adolescence (if we keep growing up) and now we have the capacity for introspection, self-expression, and self-discovery.  We have the ability to step back and view ourselves, and the world objectively.  We escape from “herd mentality” in our thinking, and we seek truth and meaning in individualistic terms.  We begin to identify with the human race as a whole.  We become highly achievement oriented and we begin to see the world as a rational and well-oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered, and even manipulated.  At this level, we can take a third-person perspective and be objective in our thinking.

The Green stage is next.  It begins in adulthood (for those who develop this far) and it brings a great sensitivity to marginalized humans with it.  Individuals at this level see every situation has multiple perspectives and inclusivity becomes important.  People become ecologically considerate, more communitarian, and they nurture human bonding.  At this stage, people have the power and capacity to rise above third person perspectives, reflect on them, review them, and criticize them.  They believe the human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma and divisiveness.  They believe feeling is more important than being rational, they cherish the earth, and all life on it, and they emphasize dialogue and relationships.  Only about thirty percent of the adult population in Western cultures has reached this developmental level.  The industrial northeast of the United States has a high percentage of people at this level.  That’s why a majority of the colleges and university like MIT and Harvard are in the northeast.  Silicon Valley in California is at this level, too.  Many of the baby boomer generation operate from this meme.  (Wilber calls the boomer generation an “awakening generation” because of the explosion that occurred in our generation through creativity in technology, ecological sensitivity, political action, lifestyles and music.  Maslow called the Green level of development the “beginning” of self-actualization.) 

The baby boom generation has a great deal of strengths – we have a willingness to test out new ideas beyond the traditional ones we were raised with, for example – but we also have many weaknesses and that’s a problem.  We tend to be narcissistic and we see ourselves as something pretty special.  (Wilber says we see ourselves “as the vanguard of something unprecedented in all of history, the extraordinary wonder of being us.”) 

The baby boom generation is stuck in the Green meme.  As a generation, we can’t move forward.  We are extremely preoccupied with our narcissistic ways and our very strong drives for materialism.  Our lifestyles are overblown and excessive, we don’t adopt truly multicultural views, and meetings are considered a success if everybody gets a chance to express their feelings rather than when a decision is reached.  We spent so much time developing our outer world – technology, ecological sensitivity, lifestyles, music etc. – that we neglected our inner world.  We failed to grow and evolve as individuals.  (Green is also unhealthy when all kids are given a trophy or certificate just for participating in a sport or an event.  This is really dangerous.  It actually stunts kids’ growth.)

At Green, we are completely unaware of the interior stages of human development, we cannot grasp the big picture (although we think we can), and we aren’t very inclusive (although we think we are).  As a generation, we have not figured out that in order for each of us to be healthy, all of society needs to be healthy, too. 

Today, our culture is completely confused.  Us Baby-boomers raised our kids in an atmosphere where there was nothing to believe in, nothing to value, and nothing to aim for so the Millennials turned to the most superficial values left:  money and fame.  But underneath it all, Millennials have the same burning desire, the same hidden drive, everyone does for real meaning, real worth, real values, real wholeness, real growth and evolution.  (Millennials simply need to learn how to grow up.  It’s not their fault they didn’t.  We didn’t teach them how and they didn't learn how in school.)

The developmental levels from Infrared/Crimson to Green are considered first tier memes.  Ninety-five percent of the world’s population is in this first tier.  Most people are at the Amber level of development (traditional, religious), the Orange level of development (modern, rational, scientific) or the Green level of development (postmodern, pluralistic, multicultural). 

Each level of development carries its own sets of values and its own way of seeing the world so these three levels (Amber, Orange, Green) are at the core of the “culture wars” we hear about on the news.  People at these three levels constantly argue because they disagree in their views and values.  (If you read the editorial page of any newspaper, you’ll find somebody representing one of these three levels, and they are usually attacking somebody at another level.)  This is what’s happening in the United States and Canada right now. All the politicians are at different levels of development.  So are the people who support them so all people do is argue.  (The Republican far right in the United States and the Conservative right wing in Canada are Amber in their development.  Our education systems are Amber, too.  Trump, when he denigrates other cultures and women is actually operating from the Red level of development.) 

Developmental psychology explains why parents (often Amber or Orange) clash so strongly with their teen-aged children (often Red) and why hippies during the 60s and 70s (Red) clashed with the authorities trying to send them off to the Vietnam War (Amber). 

This also explains why there is so much conflict and strife in the world today.  People at the first tier level of development think their way of thinking is the “right” and “only” way.  They are dualistic in their thinking, they see themselves as separate and distinct, they don’t view themselves as interconnected parts of an interdependent whole, and they don’t consider what is best for everyone.  They only consider what is best for them.  They are not aware of the interior stages of development, and they are not able to step back and grasp the bigger picture. 

Ninety-five percent of the world's population is at this first tier level of development. And as long as we have ninety-five percent of the world’s population at this first tier level, all we’re ever going to get is disharmony and war.

Starting about 30 or 40 years ago, developmental psychologists started spotting the emergence of a new level of development that Wilber calls Turquoise.  People at this level make a very big leap in the way they live their lives.  They suddenly want to live a life of wholeness, meaning, purpose, and value.  They undergo a revolutionary shift in the way they see the world.  They no longer operate from the first tier, which is a partial, fragmented, broken, and torn way of seeing the world.  They begin to operate from a unified, integrated, and whole perspective which developmental psychologists call the second tier.   

At the second tier, people realize that each of the developmental levels is a necessary ingredient of all subsequent levels (if they know about developmental levels) and they realize that when they transcend one level and move to the next, they transcend and include the old level.  They begin to realize there is partial truth in every level and every level needs to be welcomed, valued, even celebrated.  At Turquoise, people can turn each level or wave “on” as they need it.  For example, in emergency situations, they can tap into their Red power drives.  During chaotic times, they can activate Amber order.  If they are interviewing for a job, they can connect with Orange achievement drives.  When they connect with family and friends, they can draw on Green bonding urges.  Second tier thinkers are fully aware of the interior stages of development, they are able to step back and grasp the bigger picture, and they are totally inclusive and integrated in their thinking. 

It’s a very big leap to grow developmentally from Green to Turquoise. After the age of twenty, it doesn't happen on its own.  We have to deliberately work at growing up in order to move past Green.  It’s extremely important we all work toward this goal.  When we make the big leap from Green to Turquoise, things like war, poverty, discrimination, and ecological destruction don’t make sense any more.  We stop ignoring these critical issues and we devote time and energy toward improving the world. 

When ten percent of the population make the big leap from Green to the Turquoise level of development, we’ll see big changes in the world. As more and more people grow up into the Turquoise level of development, it will become a major leading edge. The impact on the entire world will be nothing less than shocking.   

What developmental level are you currently operating from?  (Self assessment is surprisingly accurate for most people.) 

Would you like to make the big leap and help bring the world to a more peaceful, loving, and inclusive place?  (You can absolutely be part of the growing up, waking up, cleaning up, showing up movement!) 

If you want to participate in this remarkable time in history, practice taking different perspectives on a daily basis, meditate, do yoga, lift weights, and clean up your shadow elements (with professional help if necessary). 

Debbie L. Kasman