So today marks the beginning of a new year for me; I’m embarking on something I’m calling the Year of Change Challenge with the hopes of giving my brain and my health everything it needs so that I can be the most creative person I can possibly be.

In my first year out of college I learned a lot, but the most important lesson I learned was that I personally don’t feel like myself if I’m not creating things—but beyond that, the lesson there was that there are conditions that need to be in place for anybody to be creative. Put simply; creativity is a privilege—let me explain.

We all learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a health or psychology class in school—or your health teacher at least put Castaway on in your classroom at some point like mine did.

If you need a refresher, it’s basically a pyramid with layers representing certain needs, and the needs in the layers at the bottom of the pyramid need to be established before any of the needs in the layers above can be reached. The layers are listed in order below:

  • Physiological needs: food, water, breathing, shelter, etc.
  • Safety needs: security of body, employment, resources, family, health.
  • Love/Belonging Needs: friendships, family, relationships.
  • Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others/by others
  • Self-Actualization: spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts (resilence!)

Only recently did I a see a graph of Maslow’s Hierarchy with Creativity on the top—that means that those of us who don’t have access to proper nutrition, or who work two jobs and don’t get enough sleep at night (and don’t have a lot of extra time), and those without a secure living situation or a secure job can’t move up towards self-actualization and creativity—and that makes me really sad, because creativity—for me it’s my writing and photography and videos that I’ve been making on and off since I was thirteen—has always been something that is healing for me because it’s a source of joy, self-exploration, and belonging.

And you might be like, Hannah, duh—but remembering this hierarchy of needs led me to plan out a year of change in my own life, and I want to share the process here in case anybody needs a bit of inspiration to make some changes in their own.

I recently read Untamed by Glennon Doyle Melton, and at one point she says, “We spend all of our time, energy, words, and money creating a flurry, trying not to know, making sure that the snow doesn’t settle so we never have to face the fiery truth inside us—solid and unmoving.” And when I read that I was like “huh.”

For the entire year that I lived in New York City, I was keeping myself busy. I lost track of what’s important to me. I didn’t write anything or make anything, I only read two books last year when I usually read 25-30, and I felt awful.

I realized that not giving my writing and my creativity the time and energy that it needs feels like a kind of self-abandonment—and not creating or taking care of  my ability to create when I have everything at my disposal to take care of those bottom levels of the Hierarchy to unlock confidence and creativity seems like a pretty poor use of my privilege.

So I began to wonder what kind of a life I want—what kind of impact I want to have and what values I want to uphold in my actions and my words—and I reflected on the dumpster-fire of my first year out of college.

I realized I was living out of my reactions—ones that I didn’t choose, but ones that I learned from the culture around me as a kid. I reacted to the inevitably hard feelings of that transition from college to work by eating whatever I felt like, regardless of the later repercussions for my health. I consumed and did not create. I gave the other people in my life the bare minimum because I was giving myself the bare minimum too.

Once I took an honest look at how I’d been living I decided that I want to live the boldest, most creative life possible—I will return to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and build strong foundational habits to open up time and energy for my creative brain to work its magic—and I’m taking you with me.

Image by Matt Power on Unsplash

The Steps I’ve Already Taken

  1. I read Atomic Habits by James Clear and determined that the first month of the challenge is just about showing up for a few habits every day and have no zero days. For example, one of my habits I’m going to focus on is doing a yoga video every day but on days when I don’t have a lot of time or energy I can do a 5 minute video and that still counts because I’m showing up to my yoga mat.
  2. I got a tracker from Best Self Co—but you can create one of your own and I narrowed down the six habits I want to focus on first.
    • Journaling
    • Writing
    • Reading
    • Drinking four 32 oz jugs of water
    • One yoga video
    • Meditating
  3. I created a notebook—which I will walkthrough in a YouTube video later this week and I’ll link it here once it’s uploaded—and this notebook includes trackers for each of my goals, and pages for notes from things I’m reading or just things I’m learning while I’m in the middle of this challenge.
  4. I started two of my habits early to get some momentum going.
  5. I cleaned my space.
  6. Spa day with a hair mask and any other little self-care things that make me feel refreshed.
  7. And then, using the tips from Atomic Habits, I got clarity around what this challenge is for, for me—I made a list of outcomes I’d like to achieve like losing weight, getting whiter teeth, finishing my novel and more, BUT one of the major points of James Clear’s book is that those outcomes are only surface level, and that real, lasting change won’t be made unless you’re considering the person you need to become in order to make certain habits part of your daily life. For example, “The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.”
    1. Similarly, I want to lose weight—so I need to ask myself what someone who could lose weight would do. So the outcome I want to achieve is to lose weight, but beyond that, the true goal is to become a healthy person who exercises and eats right and takes care of their body.
    2. This approach is one thing that actually gets me really excited to change my life, because it makes it clear that your habits reinforce your identity. You only believe what you believe about who you are now because your current habits reinforce your current identity. So with new habits, and repeating small habits everyday, eventually you’ll have more evidence of your new identity as a healthy person, as a writer, or whoever you want to be. Thinking about the person you want to be—maybe the best version of yourself, and using your habits as a roadmap to get closer to that person every single day is really motivating.
  8. I wrote out a kind of manifesto or story about who I want to be; How I live my daily life as this best version of myself, and how my habits reflect the identities that I want to cultivate—and for each of my habits that I listed previously, I wrote out implementation intentions, which help you clarify when and where you will perform a habit, so that I know when I need to show up for that habit.
    1. I created a printable worksheet you can fill out every night to create implementation intentions because I know every day won’t be exactly the same, so it seems best to double check your plan each night to avoid any confusion in the morning.
  9. And I figured out systems or processes by which I can achieve my goals—like writing for at least 30 minutes every day.
  10. Then I set a date to start: June 29, 2020, and I sat down and filmed a video and wrote this blog post to share the challenge with you.

I’ll be posting weekly updates on Youtube on Mondays to share what I did that week, how things are going, and what you can also do to pursue your own year of change challenge. I’ll also be posting on Thursdays to share some video about personal development and creativity—and I’ll post here on my blog weekly with some creativity-related topic.

I also created free daily planning pages that you can download below if you’d like to start living with a bit more intention and start to get your habits in order, so that you can unlock time and energy for your brain to be as creative as possible.

I’m excited for this, and I hope you are too. Let me know in the comments if you’re in for this challenge and what you’d like to achieve in the next year.

Daily Pages

Below you can download my daily pages to help you plan out your day!

It’s best to use these before heading to bed at night so that as soon as you wake up you know what you need to do to be able to use your time efficiently to get all of your habits in around any other plans or work you need to get done—and these pages can provide a nice ten minute pre-bed ritual for you to reflect on gratitude and get excited for the changes you’re making in your life!