I'm a firm believer that no one wakes up socially conscious or "woke," and for me it was — and still is — a process about learning and unlearning negative behaviors. Thanks to some healthy dialogue on and off Twitter and recognizing toxic habits ingrained from childhood, I'm trying to undo how my actions can harm others. I owe a lot of that journey to a book called "True Love, by Thick Nhat Hanh. It explores how to walk, live, and express love in ways that are healthy. Many times, we only think of love in a romantic sense, but a lot of the time it is the appreciation and understanding we are looking for from others and that we need to give ourselves.
Even if you don't pick up a book that gives you those revelations, stopping to acknowledge the moments that made you uncomfortable or reflecting on how you made someone else feel was a good place to start for me. The other part is being patient with yourself, but not without recognizing where you want to be on the inside. Also, it's worth noting that this journey is never ending. You will find yourself unpacking something about yourself, and then you'll realize something else. Take your time, forgive yourself, and don't give up.
Here are a few things I did that made a difference this past year:
1. Accept that your path includes new people.
There's nothing like wanting to return home and get the same feelings about it, hang out with the same people and feel all of the nostalgia that comes with it. But sometimes you grow out of people and places, and that's OK. Sometimes this means unfollowing a few people you used to find funny or interesting and bringing new people on to your TL.
2. Understand that how you critique others says a lot about how you feel about yourself.
A few months ago, I made a promise to always be conscious about how my actions and statements could tear someone down. For example, maybe that comment about a particular item not being for a certain person or their body wasn't just mean, but applied pressure on me to exceed certain "standards." I realize that some of the non-ideas I held were also pretty harsh about others and myself.
3. Start asking, "What kind of attention fuels me?"
I've learned that a compliment isn't a compliment if it has to belittle someone else. And you don't have to accept them as compliments. It's just that simple.
4. Start listening to listen, not to respond.
Let me preface this and say that I am a fire sign in every sense of the word. Being right should actually be my middle name. But also acknowledging that hearing someone else out includes actually listening. A word of advice to my fellow fire signs, in astrology and in spirit — stop thinking about how you would respond and open yourself up to their thoughts.
5. Start acknowledging that you are allowed to change your mind.
It isn't hypocritical, it's human nature. Others may try to hold you accountable to being "consistent," but how you think about a particular issue isn't about what they think. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can unpack those ideas.
6. Write down the moments that make you feel good.
If you're socially savvy and you don't mind anyone else knowing, pin it to your profile every time it happens. When you feel low, tired, or frustrated, you can revisit those moments in a journal, or note file about the people that made you smile or feel good about yourself.
7. Remind yourself of who you want to be, and accept and love yourself now.
I have a friend who often tweets the same message. It's a friendly reminder on my TL that today is always a good day to acknowledge and accept who you are in the moment. And it's true. Maybe you aren't the super successful and life of the party, but you will be. And today, celebrate the fact that you are a partial introvert, who would rather Netflix & Chill.
8. Reflect on the friends and the family members who taught you toxic behaviors.
This past election was truly a testament to how differences can lead to deep divisions. Even if you aren't debating politics, remaining angry with the people you're close to for how they influenced your actions will make it harder to move on. Sometimes forgiving someone can feel like absolving them of their mistakes, but it isn't. Forgive yourself for accepting their ideas and acknowledge that they were wrong. As an adult, you can still change things.
9. Remember that not everything merits a discussion.
Self preservation is a constant act of resistance. When you feel the conversation going somewhere negative or less than productive, accept that you don't have to contribute. People call it "picking your battles," but sometimes it's recognizing there is no battle to be had.
One thing I'm still learning is that these steps can happen many times before you get it right. And progress is the repeated act of recognizing, forgiving yourself, and doing your best to acknowledge those challenges. Before you know it, you are exactly the thing you wanted to be to someone else. And sometimes seeing that reflection is enough to make you appreciate where you are and to keep trying.