A Big Kid in A Grown Up Body

Do we ever grow up? As a ‘grown woman’ with a husband, two kids and a dog I should be grown up, but I don’t feel like I am. When I’m dressed for work I tell people ‘I’m wearing my ‘grown up’ clothes’ and if my children scream, unable to cope with being the one in charge, I often just join in.

A study asked 2000, twenty somethings what life events would make them feel like an adult and 63% answered, “having a child.” On the other side of the coin there are those of us who have passed through that critical life stage and still feel like we’re 18.

I recently spent a weekend in the Alps for the wedding of a close friend who captures the essence of childlike charm (see photo): referring to kids as her little buddies, as a snowboarding instructor her job is the epitome of fun and her life in general is quirky and colourful. But she didn’t want kids at her wedding. Not because she doesn’t like them, but because (although I am presuming as I haven’t asked) they would take away the fun. When children are around we have to be more sensible, watching what we say and how we behave. With no distractions everyone could let their hair down without having to worry about the consequences. The result was a weekend full of laughter!

I came back down to earth with a thud on my return home. Relieved about school starting: a release from the constant need to referee, the opportunity to get on with my work and the chance to just ‘be myself’, in reality it brought the reminder that having kids is not just about ‘behaving ourselves’ when they are there. It’s about a myriad of other responsibilities: how they behave, curriculum events that need to be attended, teachers to talk to, forms to be filled in, homework to be completed (I never enjoyed doing my own let alone coaching someone else to do theirs), items to be remembered: piano music, hockey sticks, pencils, dictionaries, water bottles…… The stark contrast with my weekend away led me to ask my husband if I could resign, he told me that wasn’t an option.

Maybe the need to be a big kid is exaggerated in me; I’m the youngest by 5 years growing up with a big brother who let me get away with more than the average little sister. Add in 4 stepsiblings and I’m the youngest of 6, which inevitably embedded the expectation that I was never ‘the responsible one’. I also report as ‘mischievous’ and ‘excitable’ on one well-used measure of personality, neither of which point toward particularly adult behaviour. To that ends I probably also associate with friends who are also a little more ‘child like’ in nature, so maybe I just don’t fit the norm.

From a theoretical perspective I’m not considered normal – ‘feeling like a child inside an adult’s body’ is explained as “various ‘child parts’ not being fully integrated into our adult self.” Dr. Leon Seltzer, a clinical psychologist from California says that “when present-day circumstances tap into old, unresolved doubts or fears….we’ll experience ourselves in the same way we did in the past.”

But as a psychologist focused on ‘normal’ as opposed to ‘abnormal’ psychology, my professional opinion differs. While there are people who suffer from traumatic experiences, the childlike nature I’m referring to is more about curiosity, awe and well, just fun. I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling like I’m years younger than reality would suggest and resent having to let go of that.

But although everyone sometimes feels like a ‘Big Kid’, there is a helpful and an unhelpful version of this, being childlike or childish has its differences. I see numerous senior leaders behaving childishly: unable to manage their feelings (e.g. joining in when your kids are screaming – oops), emotionally unaware, selfish and narrow-minded. Where as I encourage leaders to be more childlike because having an open mind, curiosity and wonder enables far better outcomes. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon said:

 “You have to say, ‘Wait a second. Why are we doing it this way? Could it be better? Could it be different?’ That kind of curiosity, that explorer’s mind, that childlike wonder – that’s what makes an inventor.”

And this doesn’t prevent being adult, leaders noted for their wisdom, such as Nelson Mandela are also known as people who encapsulate this e.g. Mandela’s cousin said he “had a childlike spirit, even in his old age” (Nozolile Mtirara).

The positive outcomes of a childlike nature don’t just apply to leaders. Aside from the fun of being childlike, a youthful outlook has been shown to ward off cardiovascular disease and results in health habits that prolong life. Besides – it generally just makes life an awful lot more enjoyable. So while I personally span a bit of both childish and childlike – there’s nothing wrong with feeling like a Big Kid in a Grown Up Body.

As always – any thoughts or comments are welcomed…How old do you feel?


Links and References




Feeling young at heart may help you live longer

Terracciano, A., McCrae, R. R., Brant, L. J., & Costa, P. r. (2005). Hierarchical linear modeling analyses of the NEO-PI-R Scales in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Psychology and Aging, 20(3), 493-506. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.20.3.493

Me & My Bike


Disclaimer – this is not my bike!

This summer excruciating shin splints (from running) left me increasingly frustrated by a lack of activity (and an intense desire to indulge in junk food). I needed to get outside and do something, but given my responsibilities, travelling to the Southern Hemisphere to do what I love (snowboarding) was never an option. So I joined a local velo ride and although I found myself struggling a long way off the back for the entire duration my love of cycling returned full force.

Cycling isn’t new to me but neither is it ‘something I do’. As a child I dragged friends on long rides and searched for BMX tracks with my brother. I’ve cycled to work, ridden around remote parts of China and tootled along with the locals in Holland. But a nasty fall put me off my cycling: the cuts became infected, my hand swelled up and I took antibiotics ‘not suitable during pregnancy’. Unbeknownst to me I was pregnant and the shock when I found out instilled an irrational fear.

The psychology of cycling is immense. In my book I explore how Tyler Hamilton, a man from an honest background, was drawn into drugs through the extraordinarily strong influence of cycling. But I’m not going to cover everything here; instead I’m just going to talk about ‘Me and My Bike!’

Why do I love my bike?

  1. Happy Memories

Cycling evokes memories of times with my Dad, brother and friends, venturing into different places, talking about a multitude of things. These memories make me feel good. This may seem obvious but has only recently been backed by science. A study published by the University of Liverpool showed that positive memories lead to positive emotions, which in turn increases mental well-being and physical health.

  1. Friendship

There’s something about the friendship that forms through cycling that’s incredibly strong. Exploring new places, chatting with no distractions, the bonding experience of getting out of tricky spots, all relate to our more primitive emotions, mirroring the activity of our ancestors. This evokes strong attachments in the emotional parts of our brain.

  1. Freedom

When I was ‘little’ my bike meant I could get about without having to depend on anyone, providing a sense of freedom, independence and a means to explore.

Cycling brings another form of freedom too; the feeling of wind in our hair and the elements on our skin (cheesy as it sounds) connects our more basic emotions with the world around us. It takes us away from the unnatural confines of a car or train literally allowing our brain to function more naturally in the world it evolved for.

  1. Flow

Flow is defined as “Complete absorption in what one does…..where experience seamlessly unfolds from moment to moment…an intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment.” Csíkszentmihályi

When we’re in a state of ‘flow’ we let go of self-consciousness, feel completely in control and lose sense of time. For me this happens when I’m cycling. Given it’s the basis from which Positive Psychologists claim all happiness stems, it’s no wonder I love my bike.

  1. Excitement

Most children get excited about a new bike; I know plenty of adults who do as well, but for me cycling goes beyond this. I have a ‘Sensation Seeking’ personality.

As a kid I climbed the highest trees, swung off the most dangerous rope drops and skied down the hairiest black runs. I travelled the world alone: surfing, skiing and snowboarding along the way. But now I live in England: a married life with two kids, a dog and a company to run, which doesn’t fit well with this part of my personality.

Research shows that with a higher dopaminergic activity in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, Sensation Seekers have a greater need to find novel and intense experiences. When this isn’t expressed through positive means, like sport and exploration, it can result in gambling, drug and alcohol addiction. For those like myself who manage to steer away from the darker side, we are left with a flatness, an unfulfilled biological need.

My job helps: making critical judgements on senior leaders, meeting potential successors to Russian oligarchs, public speaking are all novel and intense – but these lack the physical edge found in extreme sports. I am weirdly thrilled at being pummelled by a wave or screaming down a mountain on a piece of wood.

I’m lucky that I take the occasional trip to snowboard with friends, one of whom wisely steered me in the direction of cycling. It seems obvious, my husband had suggested it a million times, yet I hadn’t realised. As a psychologist we are often the last to diagnose what’s best for ourselves (and as a wife, the last to listen to my husband). Right under my nose, what I had developed a fear of could actually provide me with that long sought after release: the adrenalin rush of a fast descent, the concentration to not fall off round a sharp bend, the reward of an amazing view at the top of a hill climb.

So in short I am excited to have a ‘not so new’ pursuit – It’s Me (and any friends who wish to join me) and My Bike!

P.S. As always comments are welcomed so please do share your thoughts…………..thank you!


Links and References

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2014). Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Holden,N.,  Kelly, J., Welford, M., Taylor, P.J. (2016). Emotional response to a therapeutic technique: The social Broad Minded Affective CopingPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.

Roberts, P. (2006) “Risk.” Psychology Today.

Pickering, A.D. & Gray, J.A. (1999) The neuroscience of personality: Theory and Research.