13 ways you're better at adulthood than you think

Diana Yukari/Business InsiderThe Great Secret of Adulthood is that no one ever really feels like an adult.

The Great Secret of Adulthood is that no one ever really feels like an adult.

All around you, 30-somethings in business suits eating fancy salads and sending important client emails are desperately hoping you won’t discover that they’re really an eight-year-old who’d so much rather be watching cartoons and eating ice cream.

But adulthood is less about the salads and the suits and more about things like handling challenging situations at work, knowing yourself well, and showing compassion for other people. In other words, the more subtle stuff.

Below, we’ve rounded up 13 of those subtle signs that you are, in fact, a real, live adult. It’s ok if you don’t feel like all 13 signs describe you — even if only a few of them fit, you’re well on your way.

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You work hard, but you know your limits

So long to those college all-nighters.

Decades ago, Henry Ford discovered that employees' productivity started to decline after about 40 hours a week.

More recently, researchers have learned that after a few 60-hour workweeks, the quality of your output starts to go down.

It might be tempting to regularly log 12-hour days when you've got a ton of work to tackle. But adulthood is about recognising that this strategy will ultimately backfire and you'll end up burning out.

Interestingly, some research suggests that much of the time we spend working isn't very productive -- meaning that if you cut back your hours, you might not see your productivity decrease.

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You're happy to help, but you don't say 'yes' to every request

Declining a coworker's request to work on a project together, or a fellow parent's request to drive their kid to school might seem rude. But it's important to realise that you can't possibly agree every single time someone asks for help.

You'll wind up disappointing everyone.

'Every time you say yes to something, you're really saying no to something else,' psychotherapist Amy Morin previously told Business Insider.

Interestingly, she added that 'when you say yes to everything, it's about me. I want to feel good about myself; I want people to like me more.'

A more adult response whenever someone asks you for something? 'I'll think about it,' so you can consider whether you really have the bandwidth to help them.

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You stick to a budget ... or at least you try to. Sometimes.

There are few worse feelings than logging into your bank account and realising that you have way fewer funds than you thought. And that next month's planned vacation is definitely out of the question.

If you've managed to avoid that feeling (for the most part), because you stick to a weekly or monthly budget, you're definitely on your way to full-fledged adulthood.

If this is a problem area for you, start with some of the best budgeting tips from readers who have shared their budgets with Business Insider.

For example, you'll want to anticipate any major costs in the near future -- like if you're planning to have a kid or go back to school. It's also wise to set aside an emergency fund with several months' worth of expenses in case the unexpected occurs.

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You can spend time -- but not all your time -- alone

In her book '13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do,' Morin writes that mentally strong people 'don't fear alone time.'

She recommends taking a few minutes every day to be alone with your thoughts.

That said, you probably don't want to spend all your time in solitude. Adulthood is about finding that sweet spot between social and solo activities. That balance differs for everyone, and depends on the day -- but the idea is to feel happy and fulfilled.

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You've negotiated your salary -- even if it was scary

Even some negotiation experts freak out when they have to ask for more money.

But one analysis found that not negotiating your salary could cost you a whopping $1 million over the course of your career. So whether you're negotiating the terms of a new job or a raise at your current gig, don't let the opportunity pass you by.

The first step is to do your research and find out the salary range for someone in your position. You'll also want to practice, maybe even by pretending to be your boss and having a friend pretend to be you.

Yes, it will be intimidating -- but an adult doesn't let fear stop them.

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You can take criticism ...

You might like to stamp your feet, shout, 'Not fair!' and storm out of the room every time your boss gives you some negative feedback. But that's (obviously) not the most mature route.

Instead, an adult accepts feedback of all kinds gracefully and sees it as an opportunity for improvement.

For example, if you aren't sure the person is correct, you can say something like, 'I hadn't thought of that, and I'm going to look into it right away.'

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... and deliver it

Giving negative feedback -- even if it's not really that bad -- is one of the hardest parts of being a manager or a grownup. But if you never point out your team's -- or your child's -- mistakes, they will probably never learn from them.

One, proactive strategy is to give positive and negative feedback regularly. Otherwise, when your employee does finally receive some criticism, she may overestimate its importance and get confused or upset.

If you're sending criticism via email, try using the word 'yet' to soften the blow. As in, 'I don't think these designs are where I want them to be yet.' According to Jocelyn Glei, author of 'Unsubscribe,' that helps the recipient feel like they have the potential to make progress.

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You've accepted that you'll never find the perfect job ...

Being an adult isn't about resigning yourself to a mediocre profession. Instead it's about finding something great and working to make it an even better fit for you.

According to behavioural economist and 'Payoff' author Dan Ariely:

'What people don't understand is that we also have the capacity to bend the job to our will.

'So if we see somebody being a good fit for their job, it's not because this was them, this was the job, and there was a magical matching. It was probably a long process in which the person changed a little bit and the job changed a little bit.'

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... or the perfect partner

Just like the ideal job probably doesn't exist, neither does the ideal spouse.

That doesn't mean, however, that you can't be happy. Again, it's about finding someone great and working on maintaining and growing your love for each other.

Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett says that one key marker of the transition to adulthood is accepting, and being content with, reality.

'Part of what it means to be an adult is you make your choices,' and you stop constantly hoping for something better, Arnett previously told Business Insider. 'You realise that the range of possibilities that is open to you is not unlimited.'

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You can listen while someone else is talking

This one might sound like a no-brainer. But you'd be surprised how may people -- adults among them -- are missing this key skill.

One way to practice is to engage in 'mindful listening' with a partner. Here's how it works:

• A talks and B listens for a set time period.

• B responds with, 'What I heard you say is …'

• A gives feedback and B responds until A is satisfied.

• A and B switch roles.

The goal is to have less superficial interactions, to instead have interactions that leave you feeling like you and your conversation partner really understood each other -- and maybe even helped each other introspect.

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You don't spend all your free time on social media

Facebook is awesome. As are Twitter and Instagram. They let you see what long-lost high-school friends are up to and participate vicariously in friends' beach vacations.

Unfortunately, you can also end up spending a lot more time on these services than you meant to. That's not a great thing.

Research suggests that passive Facebook use -- as in, scrolling through your newsfeed without posting anything or messaging anyone -- can put people in a sour mood. That's likely because they're envious of everyone posting about their fabulous lives.

If you find yourself sinking hours into this kind of passive social-media activity, consider taking a tip from time-management expert Laura Vanderkam and organising your free time like you would the workday. In particular, Vanderkam recommends setting one priority for every weekday evening.

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You know when you work best

The term 'biological prime time' was coined by Sam Carpenter in his book, 'Work the System.' It describes the hours of the day when you have the most energy -- and when you're best equipped to do focused work.

Everyone is different.

To find your biological prime time, try cutting out caffeine and alcohol, minimising the amount of sugar in your diet, and waking up naturally for three weeks. Then you'll want to track your energy levels every hour and see if you can find a consistent peak.

According to Chris Bailey, author of 'The Productivity Project,' finding your most productive time could be crucial to your success at work. You'll be able to give as much energy and attention as possible to your most important tasks. Similarly, you can save relatively easy tasks for the times when you're tired and when you have a hard time focusing.

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You can make a decision -- even if you're not 100% sure about it

As an adult, you'll have to make a lot of big decisions -- like whether to go to grad school, marry your partner, have kids, and buy a house.

You can drive yourself absolutely nuts trying to figure out the exact pros and cons of each option, gathering all the relevant material until you're fully informed. But you'll never be fully informed. At some point you'll have to just pick something and go with it.

In his book, 'The Achievement Habit,' Stanford professor Bernard Roth says he uses the 'gun test' to help his students make decisions.

Here's how the gun test works: When a student of his is wrestling with a big life decision, he points his fingers in the form of a gun at the student's forehead and says, 'OK, you have 15 seconds to decide or I'll pull the trigger. What's your decision?'

According to Roth, everyone always knows the answer.

He writes: 'Even if they do not ultimately take that path, this exercise usually releases the pressure built up around the decision-making process and gets them closer to a resolution.'

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