Exploring the intersection between creativity and imperfection


Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

The popular wisdom that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with has never quite resonated with me. Originally touted by entrepreneur Jim Rohn and since echoed by many others, the sentiment shrouds friendship and connection in self-interest and the rigidness of “networking.”

The idea overlooks that much of who we spend our time with is outside of our control – work colleagues, family, life-long friends who we may no longer see eye-to-eye with (but still have the biggest belly laughs with.)

The example often drawn by admirers of this philosophy is that if you spend time with fit, active people who go to the gym, you too will find yourself fit, active and going to the gym.

Yet in truth, our natural instinct for friendships and connecting with people goes beyond taut abs. Chemistry draws us to partners and friendships that may not be the most beneficial to our careers or fitness level, but nonetheless add richness to our lives.

While we could cull such connections in order to ‘upgrade’ our social circle, there is something uneasy about forming relationships on the basis of how they will propel us forward, instead of how they will soften and deepen us in a myriad of ways.   

What does resonate, though, is the idea that much of who we are and what we know comes from the people we surround ourselves with. Part of being a social animal is that we learn through engagement. 

“While we could cull such connections in order to ‘upgrade’ our social circle, there is something uneasy about forming relationships on the basis of how they will propel us forward, instead of how they will soften and deepen us in a myriad of ways.”

The question is, why does this growth need to be limited to five people? Rather, shouldn’t we seek out a diversity of friendships? Shouldn’t we be open to alternative ideas, activities, conversations, and approaches?

At the beginning of 2016, I wanted to see what would happen if I stepped outside my friendship comfort zone, outside the five people I’m closest to, and decided to meet a stranger each week. 

Luckily, as a writer and interviewer with a decent social media following, finding a new person to meet each week came easily. From meeting someone in person to conduct a conversational interview, to reaching out to someone I admire on Instagram, or saying yes to a request to meet via email, in one year I met 78 new people, (or on average 1.5 strangers a week.)

It soon became apparent that there are so many parts of ourselves that are only uncovered when someone new is introduced into our lives, and vice versa.

What I learned from meeting a stranger each week 

1. Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet

The adage proved true. With the expectation that most encounters would be superficial meet and greets, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly friendships can form between two strangers. 

Of the 78 new people I met, some became good acquaintances. As someone who often feels a crippling sense of anxiety walking into a launch or event, meeting a stranger a week has meant that the chances of bumping into a friendly face have increased (and the trips to the restroom to take an "introvert-breather" have also decreased!)

Others became collaborators, whether it be as someone to have coffee with and talk about writing ideas or dilemmas, or referring work to one another. There were some that I dated romantically. Some that became good friends who I had over to dinner. Some became great friends who met my friends and vice-versa, and some even became housemates!

A year later, it’s astonishing to think some of my now closest friends were strangers only a few months ago. 

The lesson being, you have no idea what impact someone can have on your life, or what they could become, until you meet them. 

2. There will be a ripple effect

A few weeks into the strangers experiment, I found that meeting one new person would often lead to introductions to one, two, or even three more strangers.

Someone would mention that I’d really get along with so-and-so, and then make an introduction or pass on their contact details so I could get in touch. In other instances, after our initial meeting I’d be invited to an event or dinner and meet a handful of new people there.

What increased this refer-a-friend phenomenon was being generous in my own introductions. In other words, to attract new friends, connect friends. Start by switching on your friendship radar and being active in meeting new people – reach out on social media, follow up after you’ve met someone new, and say yes to requests to meet others.

3. Your world expands

At times, it’s easy to feel disenchanted by the routine of catching up with the same people, doing the same thing, and having the same conversations.

What I learned in my experiment is it’s important to go out of your way to meet people who are not like you, with different backgrounds, expertise, and experiences. 

This requires being a little braver. Similar to dating, meeting new people for friendship or connection opens us up to rejection. It’s much easier to stay inside your comfort zone, but far more rewarding to be open to possibilities.

As Heather Havrilesky writes in her weekly advice column Ask Polly: “Socialising is no fun if you’re just seeing the people who are the easiest to see and never taking a risk and inviting someone great to spend time with you for the first time, because you know in your heart that the two of you are kindred spirits.”

I also learned from a former stranger (and now close friend) to be open not just to new people, but new experiences. Previously quick to say no to invitations as an introvert-default, I now have a rule that if someone new, or someone interesting asks you to do something, say yes.

4. Opportunities flow through people

Halfway through the year, I quit my job as an arts journalist to go freelance. Remarkably and without actively seeking them, some of my most lucrative writing jobs and opportunities have flowed through a stranger I met in this experiment.

I also found a dream room in a dream share house on the dream street in Melbourne through a stranger-turned-housemate. I’ve participated in surreal art events, been invited to speak at events, completed a Vedic Meditation course, and had Skype calls with people I’ve long admired.  

I wouldn’t say it’s entirely who you know that brings opportunities – but it’s certainly a large part. As entrepreneur Ben Casnocha told said to Jocelyn K Glei in an interview: “Every opportunity is attached to a person. Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity — including one that has a financial payoff — you’re really looking for a person.”

5. A never-ending experiment

Despite having completed my year of strangers experiment and now well into 2017, I continue to meet on average one new person each week. Once begun, there’s a momentum and joy to meeting new people that is not easily halted.

After all, why would you want to put a cap to your friendships?

It’s not the five people closest to us that impact our lives, but everyone around us. Who we interact with, who we form friendships with, and who we offer generosity to, return it. Our world expands, and so does our luck.

As Glei continues: “Whether it’s in your career, in love, or in life, opportunities flow through people. If you want to increase your luck, start putting yourself in harm’s way.”

Experiment, be brave, and meet a stranger – or 78!

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Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

It's both inspiring and comforting to hear how those we admire succeed in the face of failures, setbacks and barriers,  and there's perhaps no better format than the commencement address to uncover such gems.

For one month, I commenced each day with a commencement speech delivered by living definitions of success such as Barack Obama, J.K. Rowling, and Oprah, alongside the late greats, Steve Jobs and David Foster Wallace.

Along with my morning coffee, I'd dedicate 20-ish minutes to digesting timeless advice on life, elemental truths, and, often, blunt realities given to graduates who are about to enter the real world.

Many sentiments from these addresses are already frequently being repeated. Does "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards" sound familiar? But diving into a month's worth of these lectures equally revealed countless words of advice and insight that surprised and inspired how I approach the preceding hours in my day.

Here are the lessons I collected day-by-day that broadened my definition of success and what it means for a life to be well lived.

1. Be micro-ambitious

"I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you... you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won't see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye," said comedian, composer, and director Tim Minchin.

2. Enjoy the ride

"When I agreed to give this address, I started trying to think what the best advice I'd been given over the years was. And it came from Stephen King twenty years ago... and his advice was this: "This is really great. You should enjoy it.

"And I didn't. Best advice I got that I ignored. Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn't a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn't writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn't stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I'd enjoyed it more. It's been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places," said writer Neil Gaiman.

3. Better is good

"Gear yourself for the long haul. Whatever path you choose -- business, nonprofits, government, education, health care, the arts -- whatever it is, you're going to have some setbacks. You will deal occasionally with foolish people. You will be frustrated. You'll have a boss that's not great. You won't always get everything you want -- at least not as fast as you want it. So you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent. And success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success. I always tell my daughters, you know, better is good. It may not be perfect, it may not be great, but it's good. That's how progress happens -- in societies and in our own lives," said Barack Obama.

4. Count on yourself

"We might ask ourselves, what tools do we have? What can we count on? You can count on yourself. Believe me, your self is your best ally. You know who you are, even when sometimes it becomes a little blurry and you make mistakes or seem to be veering off, just go deeper. You know who you are. You know the right thing to do. And if you make a mistake, it's alright -- just as the song goes, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again," said musician Patti Smith.

5. Live with integrity

"And as you grow, you'll realise the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure to try to be something that you're not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way. So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else's path, unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don't give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don't take anyone's advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine," said Ellen Degeneres.

6. How do you measure a life?

"As we move through our lives, I want you to ask yourselves: How do we measure a life? How do we measure a life -- by what means and by what measure? Do you measure it inch by inch, step by step, crawl by crawl? How will you measure you lives is the most important thing -- not only for you, students, but for all of us. I am asking myself this question constantly: How do you measure a life? Do you measure it day by day or year by year? Do you measure it by yesterday or by today? Do you measure it by the miles walked or the mountains climbed or the valleys explored? How do you measure your life?," said artist Carrie Mae Weems.

7. Stay hungry, stay foolish

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary," said Steve Jobs.

8. The different kinds of freedom

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, un-sexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing," said writer David Foster Wallace.

9. Goals change

"I went to college with many people who prided themselves on knowing exactly who they were and exactly where they were going. At Harvard, five different guys in my class told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs. The other one briefly hosted Blues Clues, before dying senselessly in yet another motel shoot-out. Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One's dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course," said Conan O'Brien.

10. Take the path less traveled

"Let's just say, hypothetically, that two roads diverged in the woods and you took the path less traveled. Part of you is just going, "Look at that path! Over there, it's much better. Everyone is traveling on it. It's paved, and there's like a Starbucks every 40 yards. This is wrong. In this one, there's nettles and Robert Frost's body--somebody should have moved that--it just feels weird. And not only does your mind tell you this, it is on that other path, it is behaving as though it is on that path. It is doing the opposite of what you are doing. And for your entire life, you will be doing, on some level, the opposite--not only of what you were doing--but of what you think you are. That is just going to go on. What you do with all your heart, you will do the opposite of. And what you need to do is to honor that, to understand it, to unearth it, to listen to this other voice," said screenwriter Joss Whedon.

11. Failure strips away the inessential

"So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life," said J. K. Rowling.

12. Nobody knows why they are successful

"If you have been touched by the success fairy, people think you know why. People think success breeds enlightenment and you are duty bound to spread it around like manure, fertilize those young minds, let them in on the secret, what is it that you know that no one else knows, the self examination begins, one looks inward, one opens an interior door. Cobwebs, black, the lights bulbs burned out, the airless dank refrigerator of an insanely over-scheduled, unexamined life that usually just gets take-out," said Meryl Streep.

13. Be your own story

"You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human without wealth. What it feels like to be human without domination over others, without reckless arrogance, without fear of others unlike you, without rotating, rehearsing and reinventing the hatreds you learned in the sandbox. And although you don't have complete control over the narrative (no author does, I can tell you), you could nevertheless create it," said novelist Toni Morrison.

14. You are not special

"Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It's what happens when you're thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion--and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you're not special. Because everyone is," said high school teacher and author David McCullough.

15. Remember your mortality

"I quote Saint Benedict who said, 'Daily, keep your death before your eyes.' That may sound like a morbid practice, but as I think you know, it isn't. If you hold a healthy awareness of your own mortality, your eyes will be opened to the grandeur and glory of life, and that will evoke all of the virtues I've named, as well as those I haven't, such as hope, generosity, and gratitude. If the unexamined life is not worth living, it's equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining," said author, educator and activist Parker Palmer.

16. People will try to box you in

"It's a tough world out there. You're going to prepare yourself for politics, bad bosses, hating employees ,and usually when you're the absolute best, you get hated on the most.Even for me, as a successful musician, in order to make the transition it was really all but impossible. People always try to box you in to what they know you best for," said Kanye West.

17. Success is giving beyond yourself

"Now one may look at me as having great success, which I have in the strictest sense of the word, and don't get me wrong, I love what I do and I feel so fortunate to get to entertain people. But to me, my definition of success is my 16-and-a-half-year marriage to my beautiful and talented wife, Vivica. Success are my three amazing sons...Success to me is my involvement in the charity Cancer for College, which gives college scholarships to cancer survivors... No matter how cliché it may sound you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence," said actor Will Ferrell.

18. Everyone you need is already in the room

"Raise the rest of your life to meet you. Don't search for defining moments because they will never come. Well, the birth of your children, OK, of course, forget about it, that's just six months. My life is forever changed, that's most defining moment ever. But I'm talking about in the rest of your life and most importantly in your work. The moments that define you have already happened. And they will already happen again. And it passes so quickly.

"So please bring each other along with you. Everyone you need is in this room. These are the shiny more important people," said actor Peter Dinklage.

19. Fame and success won't complete you

"I've often said that I wished people could realise all their dreams of wealth and fame so they could see that it's not where you'll find your sense of completion. Like many of you, I was concerned about going out in the world and doing something bigger than myself, until someone smarter than myself made me realize that there is nothing bigger than myself!," said actor Jim Carrey.

20. Rejection is not personal

"Rejection might sting, but my feeling is that it often has very little to do with you. When you're auditioning or pitching the director or producer or investor might just have something or someone different in mind, that's just how it is," said actor Robert de Niro.

21. There is no such thing as failure

"It doesn't matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble because if you're constantly doing what we do, raising the bar. If you're constantly pushing yourself higher, higher the law of averages not to mention the Myth of Icarus predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction," said Oprah Winfrey.

22. Love and work are two different things

"Freud said there are only two things important in life--love and work. He did not say that love and work were the same thing. I'm passionate about my work. It continues to give me great satisfaction and a sense of who I am. But passion and love are different at least for me they are," said entrepreneur Larry Ellison.

23. Be guided by intuition

"And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here's the distinction: Your conscience shouts, 'here's what you should do,' while your intuition whispers, 'here's what you could do.' Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that," said director Steven Spielberg.

24. Utilise your inexperience

"Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people's expectations, standards, or values. But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons," said actor Natalie Portman.

25. Start now

"If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don't stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don't compromise, and don't waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now," said designer, writer and artist Debbie Millman.

26. Our idea of success should be our own

"We live in a meritocratic society, where accomplishments are constantly being measured externally, where forms are always read from the outside, where comfort and lifestyle are often mistaken for success, or even happiness. Don't be fooled. Our ideas regarding success should be our own, and I urge you to pursue it simultaneously from both the inside and the outside...," said artist Teresita Fernández.

27. Planning is overrated

"The smartest, most interesting, most dynamic, most impactful people ... lived to figure it out. At some point in their lives, they realized that carefully crafted plans ... often don't hold up... Sometimes, the only way to discover who you are or what life you should lead is to do less planning and more living--to burst the double bubble of comfort and convention and just do stuff, even if you don't know precisely where it's going to lead, because you don't know precisely where it's going to lead.

"This might sound risky--and you know what? It is. It's really risky. But the greater risk is to choose false certainty over genuine ambiguity. The greater risk is to fear failure more than mediocrity. The greater risk is to pursue a path only because it's the first path you decided to pursue," said author Daniel Pink.

28. We are our choices

"What choices will you make? Will inertia be your guide or will you follow your passions? Will you follow dogma or will you be original? Will you choose a life of ease or a life of service and adventure? Will you wilt under criticism or will you follow your convictions? Will you bluff it out when you're wrong or will you apologize? Will you guard your heart against rejection or will you act when you fall in love? Will you play it safe or will you be a little swashbuckling? When it's tough, will you give up or will you be relentless? Will you be a cynic or will you be a builder? Will you be clever at the expense of others or will you be kind? I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old and, in a quiet moment of reflection, narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life's story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story," said CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos.

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Subscribe to our newsletter to get your free morning routine workbook with illustrations by Gorkie and feel a little better about not being so great at mornings. 

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Photography by  Bri Hammond  of  Melinda Harper

Can we learn to flip the thoughts that are no longer serving us?

Words by Madeleine Dore

Art by Amelia Goss

We spend a lot of time thinking negatively. Nearly half our waking hours are spent thinking about something other than what we are doing – we ruminate on past disappointments, worry about the future, or recall embarrassing moments over and over.

While it would be unrealistic to eliminate our negative thoughts altogether – human brain is primed for distraction and a negative lens helps us to be alert to danger and seek safety –psychologists have found that dwelling on them excessively can be detrimental both mentally and physically as essential parts of a cell's DNA, its telomeres, become shortened when stressed, affecting the way cells age.

Mind wandering or negative thought patterns also appear to be unhealthy for telomeres – essential parts of a cell’s DNA – which when under stress become shortened, impacting our health and how our cells age. 

In The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer researchers Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel identified several of these ageing thought patterns – cynical hostility; rumination; pessimism; thought suppression and mind wandering.

When I’ve experienced a period of unhappiness in my life I’ve often sought external change – my job, hairstyle, or even home – only for such feelings to eventually find me again. 

Changing the way I think could be longer-lasting. According to the authors of The Telomere Effect, making changes to our mental habits can protect our telomeres and improve our health. One such strategy is thought awareness, which can build resilience as we learn to attach less meaning to our thoughts.

I decided to put such internal awareness to the test through an opposite thought experiment. 
To do this, I took the advice of the late poet and philosophy John O’Donohue. In an interview with Krista Tippett, he suggested a simple thought exercise that involved tracking your most common thoughts and devising a new set.

For the first week of the experiment, I noted and catalogued my thoughts in the notes section of my iPhone. By day seven, the themes were clear – worrying about the future; worrying about what other people think; beating myself up for perceived flaws; comparing myself to others; negatively internalising other people’s actions or words; and ruminating on the past. 

What was most startling when reflecting on this list was that each worrying thought was outside of my control. What people think of me, the future, and what other people do is not something I can change by mulling over it. For the most part, I can’t control what happens in my life, but I can control how I think about it.

In the second week, I developed an alternative thought to each on my list. In the following weeks, each time I noticed myself falling into the mental loop of worrying about my career trajectory, I would tell myself, “I’m doing what I can now with what I have.”

If I found myself lost in thoughts of the past or replaying interactions, I repeated “Be open to the surprises in the present.”

A simple reminder when I was slipping into another negative thought spiral was simply to ask myself, “Can I control or change this?” 

When we test and probe our most common thoughts, we begin to see how our thoughts are constructed – and how much control we really do have.

What became clear in this experiment is that we can’t believe everything we think. We have choices. We can apply thought awareness, get creative and develop a new set of thoughts, or simply let our thoughts pass without renumerating or attaching meaning. 

Negativity, stress and even worry serves a purpose – it enables us to think critically about our environment and actions. But that’s not to say our thoughts couldn’t do with a good spring-cleaning once in a while.

Three tips on how to reframe your negative thoughts:

1. Take note of your negative thoughts

Spend a week or more writing down your most common thoughts to develop an understanding of your own world of though.

2. Spring clean your mind

Out with the old, in with the new. Invent an entirely new thought for each on your list and take note on how changing the way you think changes the world around you.

3. Focus on what you can control

Ask if what you’re thinking about is within your control. If the answer is no, acknowledge the thought is just a thought and try to let it pass without attaching meaning.

Want more inspiration?

Subscribe to our newsletter to get your free morning routine workbook with illustrations by Gorkie and feel a little better about not being so great at mornings. 

You'll also receive our most recent interviews, musings, experiments and inspiration in our regular newsletter. 


Photography by  Bri Hammond   of  Georgia Frances King

An experiment in morning routines proves finding the perfect one is overrated – instead, you can experiment and find what works for you. 

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

With each morning comes the promise of a clean slate, a new day unspoiled by the haphazard rush of our daily lives. We’re told that if we learn to master our mornings, we too can experience endless productivity by setting our day up for success before the rest of the world wakes. 

Yet despite our best intentions to rise early without a groan, many of us continue to reach for the snooze alarm. Observing my own follies when it comes to making the most of the morning hours, I realised I was making one key mistake: I was placing too much emphasis on what time I started the day, instead of what I was doing to kick-start my morning. 

Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, setting up your day has less to do with the time we rise, and more to do with how we choose to spend the beginning of each day. To put this to the test, I spent a month trialling morning routines.

1: Eat the frog

Mark Twain once said that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day. 

Popularised by author Brian Tracy, the eat the frog technique suggests we tackle our most dreaded first thing in the morning when we are less susceptible to distractions.

Each night I would determine my frog for the next morning – the thing I didn’t want to do, but actually needed to do. I woke up naturally each morning, made a cup of tea and opened my laptop to eat my frog.

This routine gave the feeling of getting two days in one. With the hardest task behind me, I’d then reset, shower and attend to tasks that are usually swallowed up by the snooze alarm – exercise, a full breakfast, and daily meditation.

2: The Miracle Morning

Popularised by Hal Elrod, the Miracle Morning is a set of rituals wrapped in the acronym SAVERS: Silence, Affirmations, Visualisations, Exercise, Reading and Scribing.

This morning routine sequence can be completed in any order and in as little as six minutes, or paced out to fill an hour. Taking the advice of Elrod, during this week I got up an hour earlier than usual to fit in my sequence: twenty minutes of meditation; five minutes reading a positive affirmation and making mental visualisations; ten minutes of free-form writing; ten minutes of reading; and a twenty minute jog or HIIT workout.

The results were divided. The mornings I did manage to get out of bed with the alarm I felt energetic and motivated by the sequence.

As the week wore on, the routine lost its glow. The sequence felt more like a daunting to-do list to power through than a leisurely and mindful way to start the day. My snooze alarm habit was quickly resumed, and the miracle morning quickly became a guilty morning.

3: The Faux-Work Routine

For anyone working outside set office hours, not having a specific start time can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s liberating to construct your own day, but can equally feel directionless and chaotic.

As a freelance writer, this week in the experiment had me returning to my nine-to-five work routine. While I didn’t have an office to hurry to, the faux-work routine required I be at a café or library no later than 9:00a.m.

The structure proved to be a great way to force me out of bed instead of scrolling on Instagram till the mid-morning. Yet once I was at my faux-workplace, I fell into old work habits of getting trapped in my email inbox till midday. The latter half of the week I combined this routine with eating the frog with great success.

4: Working from bed

It’s reported Winston Churchill maintained a steady morning routine throughout his career: he would wake at 7:30 a.m. and stay in bed to enjoy breakfast, read his mail and the news, work and dictate to his secretaries before finally rising at 11:00 a.m to bathe. 

The verdict? Four out of seven mornings I fell back asleep. The mornings I did manage to stay awake, I answered emails and conducted a meeting from the comfort of my bed. Despite being somewhat productive between the covers, it was hard to shift the sense of laziness for leaving my bed just before midday.

* * *

Post-experiment I’ve found enjoyment in switching between the various morning sequences. There’s a notion that our daily routines must be fixed in order to be geared for success, but when we experiment with different mornings, each day becomes its own choose your own adventure story.

The Eat the Frog Routine is best for people who are prone to procrastination. Completing the hardest task first creates a sense of accomplishment and momentum for the rest of the day.  

The Miracle Morning Routine is well suited for those who want to ‘win the day’ and take to new habit formation quickly.

The Faux-Workplace Routine is ideal for freelancers, students or self-employed individuals who thrive best with structure and deadlines.

The Working from Bed Routine can work for those who like to ease into the morning in comfort – and feel no shame attending Skype calls in their pyjamas!

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Photography by  Bri Hammond  of  Mojo Juju & Frankie Valentine

If we can change our exercise and diet habits, can we make over our dating lives? 10 lessons from my blind dating experiment.

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

In the throes of dating or pining after a crush, there can be the all-too-familiar feeling that you've been there before. Someone's profession, hair colour or height might be different from that of an ex, but their fear of commitment, wandering eye or air of unavailability is essentially the same.

When dating, I seem to automatically seek what I've already sought: charming pseudo-intellectuals, suggestive and flirtatious, but essentially not interested in me. I chase after half-nothings and loose ends who will keep me occupied, but not attached.

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton believes this destructive dating pattern may be the fault of our feelings. We place too great an emphasis on our instincts or having "that feeling" to guide us to the right person, but that very feeling is not reliable. It is often warped by our experiences, explains de Botton. "We are not merely looking to find love, we are looking for familiarity."

It seems so many of us can't be trusted with the matters of our own hearts. But if we can change our exercise or eating habits, can we overhaul our love lives?

We are not merely looking to find love, we are looking for familiarity.
— Alain de Botton

I was curious to see if I could tweak my own habitual dating tendencies. Over the span of three months, I had friends, friends-of-friends and colleagues-of-friends set me up on dates with complete strangers.

Armed with just a name and a phone number, I proceeded to go on more than a dozen dates in cafes, rooftop bars and pubs, the idea being if others chose for me, I'd be jolted out of the experience of dating the same type of man over and over. There was a handful of goodnight kisses, and a smaller proportion of second dates. Dates were peppered with anything from stunted conversations to belly laughs, ending with anything from sexual advances to blunt rejections.

Concluding my experiment in blind dating revealed more to me about how we approach finding love, the falsities society tells us about being single, and the stories we tell ourselves during the search, than I initially imagined.

Lesson 1: Test your assumptions

A fear of rejection has often led me to pre-empt whether a date will or will not lean in for a kiss, ask me out again, or text the next day. Convinced I could read minds, I'd dutifully cut off a date or a conversation just in time to avoid being rebuffed. I'd tell myself that if it worked a certain way in the past, it was sure to happen like that again.

To shake up this habitual guessing game during the experiment, I started sending out a multiple-choice quiz at the conclusion of each date to find out for sure. While each date knew I was "experimenting" with dating, some were taken aback by my blunt request to know if they wanted to: a) go on a second date; b) be friends; c) have sex; d) none of the above. Others thought it refreshing, and I found it yielded surprising responses.

Following one particular date with an awkward beginning, excellent middle and confusing end, I was certain I wouldn't receive so much as a response to my survey. To my surprise, he was charmed by the forthright message, keen to meet again, and pleased to have the opportunity to explain his awkwardness at the end of the date.

I learnt that my premonitions were sometimes wrong; I also learnt not to fear rejection. The answer might sting, but it could also delight. You don't know what someone else is thinking, nor whether that uncertain pause is a sign of impending rejection or simply shyness.

Stop letting previous experiences determine current situations and put yourself out there as if each new date is new, because it is.

Lesson 2: Rejection isn't personal

The most terrifying part of rejection isn't so much the act itself, but how we let it define us. We can take someone declining a second date and turn it into evidence for a major flaw in our character. But just because one person rejects you doesn't mean that you are destined to be rejected by the remainder of the human species. In fact, it rarely has anything to do with you.

I began to realise that everyone has different things going on in their lives at any one moment, and their own dating habits are shaping their experiences. This freed me up to relax more, because I knew a person's behaviour on the night we met had little to do with me.

There's an undetectable, uncontrollable thing that brings two people together - some call it a spark - and a lack of it doesn't mean you lack remarkable qualities of your own.

Lesson 3: Remember what you want

More often than not, we can admit that we knew the "spark" wasn't there to begin with when we've been rejected.

I had made a habit on previous dates of waiting to determine my own feelings only after I knew somebody else's - their admiration providing the validation to slip into a quasi-relationship. But it was always based on someone else's wants.

When you lose track of how you feel, you ignore that part of you that knew it wasn't right to begin with. If we can be sure of our own desires and wants first, others no longer have the same hold over us, or ability to disappoint.

Lesson 4: You will be surprised by who is attracted to you

I don't have a checklist of attributes a prospective date must have, but I realised I do have a pretty rigid picture of what kind of options I have when it comes to who will date me. The tall, handsome, athletic guy who works in finance is generally not someone I imagine would find me attractive.

Yet attraction is so diverse and fluid, it's impossible to impose tastes based on questionable assumptions. You don't know who will be attracted to you. Let go of any narratives or checklists that cling to previous experiences and allow yourself to be surprised.

Lesson 5: First impressions can shift as quickly as they are created

The idea that you only have seven seconds to make a strong first impression didn't hold up during the experiment. There were dates whose apparent charisma faded as I sipped the last mouthful of wine in my glass; others who I initially judged as shy and dull who had me in stitches by the end of the date.

A person is more than just an awkward greeting at the start of a date, or a profile on Tinder. If we resist superimposing character traits onto someone based on a few seconds of interaction, we might have the chance to see who they really are.

Lesson 6: Appreciate friendship

The way society puts romantic love on a pedestal makes the love of friends, family and community seem second-rate in comparison. When we date with the expectation of finding the one great romance with the fairy-tale ending, we tend not to bother with anything "less", despite the potential for it to be equally enriching.

A bonus in this experiment was developing great friendships that might have been overlooked if the goal had been solely to find love, rather than to overhaul bad habits. Approaching dating with curiosity instead of a fixed goal enabled me to see new possibilities.

In her new book Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett puts it this way: "I can't name the day when I suddenly realised that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word."

I'm starting to appreciate the different guises of love and how friendship can broaden my world, bringing new people and experiences with it.

Lesson 7: Recognise your safety nets

Part way through the experiment, I found the dates were becoming monotonous. I realised I had been recounting the same crowd-pleasing anecdotes and asking the same sure-fire questions. I was using the experiment as a fallback conversation starter. I'd be overly cerebral instead of attempting awkward flirtatious banter, or conversely I'd be coquettish to avoid a normal conversation about hobbies or where I grew up.

We all have topics we find easy to return to when feeling nervous, but I found that I was hiding behind them on each date, creating a safety net so I didn't have to show myself.

The experiment itself was a way to remain safe and wear a mask if I had to. But when I did, I short-changed myself, missing an opportunity to get to know someone, and allow them to know me.

Lesson 8: Finding someone you connect with is rare

Concluding the experiment, the results from my post-date surveys, combined with my own feelings, showed that I'd had a physical and emotional connection with 23 per cent. When it came to a connection akin to what we call love, zero per cent. I did not drive off into the sunset in an intoxicating new relationship at the end of my experiment.

Such odds may seem dismal but, in many ways for the long-term single, it's comforting to know it's not your nose, waistline, job or supposed personality flaw that determines your relationship status. It's just that the odds are slim to begin with. As seemingly easy as it appears for everyone else to find "the one", it really is quite a rare phenomenon that a person collides with another person at just the right speed and tempo - with life circumstances, attraction, compatibility and readiness all culminating in the "perfect" relationship.

Finding someone to love isn't akin to finding a job - nor should we all be relentlessly seeking to acquire it as something to "complete" us.

Lesson 9: Focus on actions, not words

With those dates I did share a physical and emotional connection with, I noticed myself grasping onto even the most threadbare promises of a future. When one said, "I'd love to see you again, if only I wasn't so busy," all I'd hear was the part about them loving to see me.

People tell you who they are and what they want, if you listen and watch for it. Actions speak volumes.

Lesson 10: The only survey that counts is your own

In the Hollywood rom-com script of this experiment, the girl looking for love finally realises that the man was there all along, and the whole experiment was just a farce in order to bring them together. The Hollywood script didn't play out. Instead, what I discovered was that what was familiar - the disinterested type - wasn't good for me. I shrugged off all the ones with a fear of commitment, a wandering eye, or air of unavailability, finally understanding I deserve better - from others and myself.

What I realised most profoundly was that the only dating habit to change is the one where I tell myself I'm incomplete without a relationship.

It took 13 dates with complete strangers to show me that I'm not strange for being single - not flawed, not needing to be probed and tested and experimented on to check for defects.

By date 10, I stopped sending the survey and began to ask myself questions. An experiment can't automatically adjust lifelong habits that keep us tied to the same self-sabotage loop, or limiting thoughts about ourselves, but it can bring our attention to them.

Maybe the real experiment isn't in becoming who you think you ought to be in order to attract someone else, but in being comfortable with who you actually are - regardless of whether you have a blind date scheduled for Friday night or not. 

Want more inspiration?

Subscribe to our newsletter to get your free morning routine workbook with illustrations by Gorkie and feel a little better about not being so great at mornings. 

You'll also receive our most recent interviews, musings, experiments and inspiration in our regular-ish newsletter. 


Photography by  Bri Hammond  of  Kitiya Palaskas

Is it possible to fall into bad dating habits? In a blind dating experiment, I will attempt to overhaul my dating routine – or lack there of – and get outside my comfort zone.

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

The words of author, poet, and playwright Oscar Wilde have long acted as a guide for my soul, a backdrop of comfort in lonely hours and an escort for decisions of the heart.

As a heterosexual woman, I have learned to dodge unhealthy relationships by extracting myself quickly or opening the door to rejection early enough to avoid becoming entangled by unrequited emotions. This measure has meant that in love, life and work, no one else has been granted permission to determine how I feel about myself. I’ve created a comfort zone where solitude is a pleasure, and creativity and good friends the greatest company. As poet and songwriter Tanya Davis puts it, learning How To Be Alone can be beautiful. 

Yet for someone, Wilde's rule does not apply – I keep allowing myself to treat me like I’m ordinary. If someone throws an unkind word towards us, we are swift to catch it and label it untrue, but when we say the same thing about ourselves, too easily we take it as fact.

This disparity means that I’m perpetually swinging from sheer contentedness with my own singledom to fears that there must be something terribly wrong with me – maybe despite what Wilde says, I am unworthy of love; I am ordinary.

It’s incredible how the stories we tell ourselves shape our behaviour. When we repeat to ourselves that we are ordinary, we become blind to the people or evidence that tells us otherwise. We fall into habitual tendencies that confirm our beliefs about ourselves and our circumstances, cementing their existence in how we act and feel.

"Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary."
– Oscar Wilde

The book A General Theory of Love draws on scientific research to unveil the connection between human emotions and biological psychiatry, revealing how we fall into silent rhythms that shape who we love:

"Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear anew what we have heard most often, think just what we have always. Our minds are burdened by an informational inertia whose headlong course is not easy to slow. As a life lengthens, momentum gathers."

It struck me that my past experiences and the stories I’ve created are shaping my dating habits. I’m following a rhythm that ensures my heart is set on fire by the same person over and over. Their hair colour, profession, height, and humour may be different, but the character is the same. I’m seeking the same thing I’ve already sought, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that deems me to be un-dateble, ordinary.

Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear anew what we have heard most often, think just what we have always. Our minds are burdened by an informational inertia whose headlong course is not easy to slow. As a life lengthens, momentum gathers.

Dating is certainly not the pinnacle of the human experience – it needn't be what validates or completes us as human beings – but what happens when you find yourself shying away from it for fear of getting it wrong? To avoid being kept in a loop of dating the same person over and over again, you avoid it entirely, safer inside your comfort zone of solitude. When is it simply a preference, when is it self-preservation and when is it sabotage?

Perhaps I’ve resented the idea of dating being a marketplace, that you somehow have to work for it, that, as a woman, the message is so often that love is something you earn. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve found it more rewarding to plunge into creative projects instead of relationships.

Whatever it may be, I believe singledom is not a problem we must solve. Rather, for me the absence of my love life spurs curiosity. Dating is an experience like any other – be it travel, art, ideas – that I want to be open to, instead of closed. I want to be open to not only the world of dating, but a world of new people. We stick to our circles of friends – to what we know – surely it only pays to break into new territory.

We are quick to slip on trainers if we feel we should start exercising more, or set the alarm earlier in a bid to become a morning person, but when it comes to our emotional habits, we rarely consider if they too can be experimented with or put on a strict regime. After all, there is no diet for dating.

My poor dating habits have propelled me to retreat, to stop putting myself out there for fear of what I might attract or be attracted to. As explained in A General Theory of Love, ‘Left to himself he will not realise there is something else to be found.’

It seems I can’t be trusted with the matters of my own heart, so who can? Is it possible to devise a structure to extract yourself from your emotional habits and repetitive thoughts?

Work, mutual friends and the internet are commonly reported as the most popular ways to meet a mate. Having quickly become disenchanted with Tinder and working in a predominantly female field, that just leaves me with friends – that is, the almost obsolete blind date.

So therein lies my next experiment. In an attempt to get outside my comfort zone and tweak my own habitual dating tendencies, I’m going to embrace the blind date with the assistance of dating 'personal trainers'. 

Over the coming months, I’m asking friends, acquaintances and even strangers to set me up on dozens and dozens of blind dates on the basis that if other people chose matches for me, the chance of seeking out the same ‘type’ diminishes. It’s an investigation on how developing a weekly routine of going on a date with someone new, a stranger, can help question my inner narrative and habits, and therefore shape my world.

The less thought put into the matches the better in order to create as much diversity as possible in the pool of people I date through the experiment. Friends are asking roommates, colleagues and friends-of-friends for date candidates – some have even started to create spreadsheets filled with single men!

While there will be no recounting of the actual dates to follow, there will be a recollection of what I have learned about dating, love, singledom and myself during the experiment.

And so it begins, an adventure for the heart and mind, a pushing of boundaries and an experiment in the willingness of strangers to do something out of the ordinary. This exercise in dating will probe my assumptions and ultimately determine if dating dozens of strangers can shake the habits of the heart.

Want more inspiration?

Subscribe to our newsletter to get your free morning routine workbook with illustrations by Gorkie and feel a little better about not being so great at mornings. 

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Photography by  Bri Hammond  of  Georgia Frances King

Sometimes it takes disconnecting to really learn how to connect. Here are the lessons gained from a 7-day digital detox experiment.

Words by Madeleine Dore

Art by Amelia Goss

When was the last time you completely switched off? Until recently, I couldn’t recall the last time I didn’t take my phone into the bathroom with me.

A recent study found that the average person touches their phone 2,617 times a day, equating to roughly 2.42 hours. Recalling an average day, my guess is that my count is close to double the average.

Each time I check my notifications appears seemingly harmless – rewarding even, as each Facebook Like or Instagram heart sends a rush of dopamine to my brain.

Yet in reality, hours of my day mindlessly disappear before my fingertips.

According to Sherry Turkle, psychologist and author of Alone Together, our little devices in our pockets are psychologically powerful. “They don't only change what we do, they change who we are.”

Curious about what affect this relationship was having on my brain, emotions, connections and conversations, last year I decided to switch off from the internet, email, and social media for seven days.

A lesson in paying attention

During the first night being internet free, I found myself reaching for my phone on autopilot and scrolling through old notes and texts messages, my fingers missing the company of the screen.

But it didn’t take long for such cravings to subside. By day three it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I even remembered I had a phone. There was also a notable change in my general disposition – I felt lighter.

Without the distraction, I felt sharper. I found myself more in tune with the people and happenings around me. My mind didn’t wander back to something I had just read in thedigital world – or find reach for a distraction at any given opportunity.

Much of the time, we don’t even know what we are missing when we are absorbed in our phones or digital worlds.

A Princeton University study found that we process information better when taking notes by hand or reading print, and I felt concentrating on analogue conversations and events had a similar effect.

There were instances where it felt as if I’d predicted the future, but really I had just been paying better attention.

Heart on sleeve; not phone on table

I thought the most difficult part of switching off would be disconnecting from friends and family. The convenience of online makes it easy to share a quip with a friend and stay up to date with their world. I was sure I’d be missing out, but it was far from being the case as I quickly filled the internet void with in person conversations.

Remarkably, I had more time for conversations, for reading, for being in my own mind and not turning away from it.

Not only was I getting the real updates from people – not the edited highlight reel we portray on social media – but being phone free meant I was more engaged.

Studies have shown the mere presence of a smart phone on a table can lessen the quality of a conversation and lower the empathy exchanged.

As Turkle explains, when we strive to be connected to all the difference places we want to be, we end up hiding from each other as we turn to technology to feel connected, but in control.

A friend once told me about a recent date where the man pulled his phone from his pocket, held it in front of her, switched it off, put it away, and centred his attention right on her – there no where to hide. If such a committed gesture isn’t an aphrodisiac, I don’t know what is.

Feeling comfortable with uncertainty

What we are doing when we compulsively reach for our phone in moments of awkwardness or boredom is escaping uncertainty.

Artist, writer and filmmaker Miranda July acknowledges that some of our best ideas come to us when we felt a bit lost, but we are losing the art of being okay with not knowing.

“All those little moments when you are like, ‘Uh, what do I do next? Who am I? – you now look at your phone and refresh, refresh. It is a big problem for me, it is like someone just took away the livelihood, so I have to work really, really hard to protect this thing.”

An antidote to stress

By the end of the experiment there was a notable decrease in my stress levels. Push notifications have been found to be a toxic source of stress, alongside the pressures to respond to email promptly including nights and weekends.

Constantly checking in keeps us on an endless treadmill of requests for our time and attention. Instead of leaping off or slowing down, we continue to feed the stress.

Despite now recognising the slight ping of anxiety each email induces, I was still afraid of what I would miss out on during this experiment – work opportunities, events, conversations, happenings. It is this fear of missing out, or FOMO that what keeps us plugged in, keeps us checking in and comparing our offline and online lives.
But it turns out the internet doesn’t miss you when you’re gone.  No one expressed dismayed that I hadn’t posted anything to my 16K+ Instagram following, or replied to an email, or left several days between messages. Because I wasn’t feeding the online communication beast, there wasn’t an onslaught of emails or messages to come back to.

*   *   *

The real hurdle wasn’t lasting seven days without checking social media or email, but in redefining my relationship with my devices post-digital detox. A few hours after switching back on, I found myself in my usual habit of strolling-and-scrolling. The twitch that causes my cursor to roll over to Facebook midway through working soon returned.

It would be unrealistic for many of us to cull email or social media completely, but we can strive towards controlling it, rather than letting it control us. As the adage goes, rule your mind, or it will rule you.

After all, switching off isn’t a revolt against technology and social media, but perhaps a movement towards anti-escape. I want some conversations to be unedited. I want to notice what’s around me, not just what’s happening in my palm. I want to feel uncertain and see what happens rather than reach for the pseudo-comfort of my phone. I want to be mindful of my time and how I use it.

Tips for a digital detox that don’t require a 7-day retreat

You don’t have to switch off for seven days to set new boundaries between you and your devices. Here are some simple suggestions you can try today.

1. Delete and block

Install a Pomodoro timer for your web browser to block websites for allocated periods of time, or try the browser extension News Feed Eradicator.

The Freedom app is great for blocking social media apps and websites on your mobile and browser.

You can even take the plunge and delete entire apps, or at least turn off notifications to limit distractions.

2. Don’t walk and text

Make a pact to keep your phone away when you are walking or commuting and take a book with you on public transport instead.

3. Create a switch-off time

Commit to switching your phone off during dinner or events – actually turning it off, not just silent!

4. Have a dedicated email or social media hour

To avoid slipping into an email or social media vortex, instil an email hour at the beginning of each day – or thirty minutes in the morning and afternoon – to build your capacity for focused work.

5. Make the bedroom a no-phone zone

A wind-down routine is a great way to get a good night’s sleep. Switch off at least thirty minutes before bed, make a cup of tea or read a book and be sure to leave any electronic devices outside the bedroom or away from the bed at night.

And while you’re at it, if you’re anything like me, you may need to make the bathroom a no phone zone, too!

Want more inspiration?

Subscribe to our newsletter to get your free morning routine workbook with illustrations by Gorkie and feel a little better about not being so great at mornings. 

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An hour-by-hour breakdown of the 'perfect' day after I followed the habits of famous creatives for a month.

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

There's something fascinating about discovering the routines of accomplished individuals. It's as if finding out how someone constructs their day hour by hour will somehow reveal the ingredients to their success and creativity, as well as their happiness, charm and wealth.

As American film director and artist Miranda July puts it, "All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life – where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it." After all, also contained within our days are our vulnerabilities – awkward interactions with colleagues, inner turmoil spurred on by repetitive thoughts, bouts of procrastination watching Netflix.

After interviewing numerous creative Australians about their daily routines, it struck me that I didn't really have a regimen of my own. Newly conscious of my erratic sleep patterns, absent exercise program and tendency towards procrastination, I decided to create a "super-routine" based on my accumulation of wisdom and embark on a 30-day "habit experiment".

It is believed that successful habit formation requires focusing your attention on just one habit at a time. My translation of such advice was to adopt or discard a different habit each day until I'd accumulated an entirely new set of habits over the course of a month. Day 1 would be wake up early. Day 2 would be wake up early and exercise. Day 3 would be wake up early, exercise, and turn my phone off by 10pm to avoid spending two hours reading the entire internet.

Sound exhausting? Here's a breakdown of day thirty – my experiment's final day.

The 'perfect' daily routine 


 I hit the snooze button when the alarm sounds – some habits die hard.


Resisting a second round of snoozing, I gulp down half a litre of water. Some mornings I add Himalayan salt and lime juice, which supposedly helps to reset your biorhythms.


Out of my pyjamas and into an "air bath" – a habit borrowed from 18th-century revolutionary Benjamin Franklin, who believed in the health benefits of nudity. He would sit naked for 30 minutes in a cold room to boost his immune system. I cave in after 10 minutes without detecting any benefits from having a cold toosh.


Having quit coffee on Day 24, I make a cup of green tea before settling down at my desk to complete 10 minutes of free-flowing creative writing. When I'm finished, I set an intention for the day, such as "smile more" or "be kind".


Although monotonous, eating the same thing every day is a common time-saving habit. I alternate between microwave scrambled eggs with spinach and a pre-prepared frittata.


Eating breakfast at my computer, I dedicate some time to answering emails and transcribing interviews.


Exercise in the morning seems to be a popular habit among busy creatives. I head out the door for a short run around the park. While still breathless, I listen to a "positive thinking" meditation recording during my warm-down stretches. Bundling habits has become key to create automatic cues for behaviour and manage my growing to-do list.


Before hopping in the shower, I pop a tablespoon of coconut oil into my mouth and do 20 minutes of "oil pulling" while getting ready for work – the idea being that toxins cling to the oil, so spitting them out improves oral health, whitens teeth and clears skin.


Social media has been restricted to twice-daily checks, so instead of mindlessly scrolling Facebook during my morning commute, I listen to a new podcast and enjoy the view of passengers staring at their iPhones.


The Pomodoro Technique has been a recurring favourite among interviewees. It involves working for bursts of 25 minutes followed by a five-minute rest. I find it to be a great way to get started with my working day.


To ensure I take my vitamins, I put them right next to my computer and set a daily alarm to remind me.


Many creatives I've interviewed have enforced breaks. I make a concerted effort to get up from the computer each day to take in some fresh air and go for a walk or run an errand.


Mastering the art of saying no, I politely decline when a colleague asks me out for a drink, the reason being I don't have the funds as I have to stick to my daily budget. Part of the experiment has been to track my spending in the notes section of my phone.


Head to the op shop with a bag of dresses I haven't worn for a year – part of my give-something-away habit.


Aware of my restrictive comfort zone, I push myself to do something that scares me every day. Like doing a cartwheel in the park, it feels liberating to connect with my daring, playful side. So I take the plunge and ask out a guy I've become fond of through Instagram.


Cooking in bulk on weekends, combined with a sugar and alcohol ban, means that dinner is meatloaf and vegetables Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


It has been years since I've made something with my hands. For this experiment, I do a sketch each night. There was an initial fear of putting the pencil to the page, but then I reminded myself of a mantra common among artists I've interviewed – don't worry about it being good, just create.


I hop on the piano for 20 minutes' practice. I gave up learning when I was nine and have regretted it ever since, so I've taken up lessons again for this experiment. I follow up with juggling practice for brain-training while I listen to another podcast.


With the early mornings, by this time of the evening I'm exhausted. I drag myself to the bathroom for my nightly routine: remove make-up, dip face in ice-cold water to banish under-eye bags, cleanse and moisturise.


To cultivate gratitude, before bed I scribble a list of all the things I did well on a Post-it note – from clearing out my email inbox to paying someone a compliment – and stick the note to the wall as a positive reminder.


Social media can be a time-waster, especially in those moments before bed when clickbait articles seem appealing in your sleepy haze. I switch my phone to flight mode and pick up a book instead.


I read four pages of a novel before falling into a sweet slumber.

The verdict

After 30 days, I wondered if I had been transformed. Did the habit experiment turn me into a successful, happy, charming and exceedingly wealthy individual with a perfect routine? Not quite.

I certainly slipped up during the experiment – I slept in, I checked social media outside my allocated time, I forgot my juggling practice. Maintaining the perfect routine is exhausting, and daily life becomes centred around productivity rather than how you would really prefer to be spending your time.

Slipping up during the experiment led to the creation of what is now my favourite habit: the sabit. It's a sabbath from your habits and means that for one day each week, I can break from my strict routine. There's this pressure to fill our days from morning to night – to seize each day – but learning to be comfortable with doing nothing, and free from being enslaved by a to-do list, was the most important takeaway for me.

There are certainly habits that I've kept, but I've learnt to frame them as "good to do when I can". Things like turning my phone off as soon as I get into bed, exercising, reading and writing daily, and avoiding coffee and sugar. A routine is just a structure that allows us to make time for the good stuff, and shouldn't be another unrealistic expectation we place on ourselves.

After all, the perfect schedule doesn't equate to living a perfect life. There is no such thing. We needn't strive to follow another person's idealised routine in the hope of attaining their version of success. All we can do is experiment with what works for us. 

Watch the Creative Mornings talk!

Want more inspiration?

Subscribe to our newsletter to get your free morning routine workbook with illustrations by Gorkie and feel a little better about not being so great at mornings. 

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Photography by  Bri Hammond  of  Alice Oehr

After a year of interviewing creatives about their daily routines, I embarked on a 30-day habit experiment to see if I could build the 'perfect' routine. Here is a breakdown of exactly what that looked like and what was learned along the way. 

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

The quote summarises my fascination with daily routines  – our approach to creativity, our outlook on life, our challenges, our successes, talents, fears, vulnerabilities and peculiarities can all be found in the corners of our day to day lives. 

But after a year of interviewing artists, writers, and entrepreneurs about their daily routines, I was yet to develop a routine of my own. I began to panic. Being this researcher of routines, I was beginning to feel like a fraud.

I’d go to bed and wake up at inconsistent times each day. Evenings would be a mix of slumping on the couch, madly trying to meet a deadline, having dinner with a friend and often too much wine. Exercise was sporadic. Ordering takeaway was becoming a staple. I’d fall into social media spirals, and I’d fall into bed with a full face of make-up.

It wasn’t all chaos. As an avid planner I still managed to power through to-do lists and get things done, but I felt like not having a consistent routine meant that I would miss out on some of the good things because I would have to finish something I had earlier procrastinated on.

I was curious to see if incorporating more structure and routine into my days would enrich my life, perhaps even increase my 'happiness' and 'success' – however broad and vague those terms are. After all, I have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé – could I maximise mine?

Turning to the history books, the internet, and Extraordinary Routines interviews, I quickly uncovered the common habits and routines that people are eager to adopt or get rid of.

In my research, I began to notice how these essential habits fit together puzzle pieces. In order to eat breakfast, it’s probably a good idea to wake up earlier. A key determinant in being able to wake up earlier, is to go to sleep earlier, and limiting social media before bed and instead picking up a book can aid that process. 

Things like doing more exercise, waking up early, reading more, flossing, eating breakfast, saving money, getting more sleep, and spending less time on social media. In Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, author Gretchen Rubin observed that common habits fall into the Essential Seven: 1. Eat and drink more healthfully 2. Exercise regularly 3. Save, spend and earn wisely 4. Rest, relax and enjoy 5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating 6. Simplify, clear, clean and organise 7. Engage more with relationships.

In my research, I began to notice how these essential habits fit together puzzle pieces. In order to eat breakfast, it’s probably a good idea to wake up earlier. A key determinant in being able to wake up earlier, is to go to sleep earlier, and limiting social media before bed and instead picking up a book can aid that process. 

So like any rational human being, I thought to myself, why don’t I just take up the most sought-after habits over a 30-day period and become a routine super-human?

But as they say, to be successful in forming new habits, take it one at a time. Each new day I decided to quit just one habit or pick up a new one. Day 1 would be wake up early. Day 2 would be wake up early and exercise. Day 3 would be wake up early, exercise, and turn my phone off by 10pm to avoid spending two hours reading the entire internet. And so on and so forth, until I’d accumulated new habits each day for an entire month. 

Towards the end of the experiment, I was exhausted. My morning routine alone involved waking up at 6am; drinking a large glass of water before getting out of bed; making a green tea; doing my morning creative writing; writing my intention for the day – whether it was to be kind or to be more present; working on something project related; going for a 15 minute run; stretching and meditating for six minutes; doing coconut oil pulling for 20 minutes while I showered and got ready for work; then listening to a podcast on the tram. Phew!

Step by step 30-day habit experiment 

Day 1: Automated eating

Monotony aside, eating the same thing every day is a common timesaver. For the experiment, breakfast consisted of microwave scrambled eggs with spinach or a homemade frittata; lunch was salad with spinach, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, tuna, brown rice and cottage cheese; dinner was pre-prepared meatloaf and veggies or vegetable lasagne. Fruit and nuts for snacks throughout the day.

Day 2: Exercise

Each day involved some form of exercise – a jog around the park, a ten minute weights or yoga video on YouTube, a pilates class or walking home from work.

Day 3: Switch off phone at 10pm

Social media can be timewaster, especially in those moments before bed when click-bait articles seem appealing in your sleepy-haze. During the experiment I would switch my phone to flight mode at exactly 10pm each night.

Day 4: Wake up early

Resisting the snooze button at 6am was an immense effort, but coffee helped. My morning routine was filled with writing, emails and exercise. Pulling myself out of bed when the alarm sounded didn’t get easier – and there were a few days where the snooze button was pressed several times, but I did get less tired throughout the day.

Day 5: Quit sugar

A nightly chocolate indulgence had become routine, so cutting out sugar was a challenge. But even by the end of day three without stodgy carbohydrates and refined sugar had me feeling less bloated and more aware of what I was consuming in general. 

Day 6: Write

As an arts writer by day, I found I was doing little creative of free-flow writing in my spare time. I picked out dozens of topics as writing prompts and each morning would rise, make a coffee or tea, and sit at my computer and write for ten minutes.

Day 7: Learn to juggle

Studies have shown juggling can give our brains a boost and make us more mentally alert. After a brief lesson from a friend, I worked on juggling for a minimum of 15-minutes each day. Despite the consistency, I didn’t master the skill during the experiment.

Day 8: Set a daily budget

For food and basics I implemented a daily budget and made notes in my phone for everything I purchased to help curb spending.

Day 9: Podcast and news

As a regular listener of This American Life, On Being, The Good Life, Tim Ferris Show and Tara Brach, I wanted to stretch myself and listen to a brand new podcast daily. On my morning commute I started listening to The Moth, Radio National, Grammar Girl, How to be Amazing, Radio Lab and Ted Radio Hour.

Day 10: Cleanse and moisturise

Taking my makeup off before bed wasn’t really a priority pre-experiment. I have problematic skin, so I thought maybe it should be. Before bed, I would remove makeup with wipes, then use a cleanser, apply Vitamin A cream to problematic spots and lashings of moisturiser.

Day 11: Meditate

I started with a body scan meditation but felt my mind wandering and becoming impatient. I then experimented with concentration meditation – listening with full attention to a song, or mindfully sipping a cup of tea. Eventually I found a five-minute positive thinking meditation recording that I started to listen to in the park after I’d finished my daily run.

Day 12: Vitamins

I’m terrible at remembering to take vitamins, even with a reminder on my phone. I found it helped having them next to my bed at night so I was prompted to take them when I went to switch off my lamp. In the evening I would take Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium. Mid-morning I would take a multivitamin, fish oil, B6 and a chewable Vitamin C.

Day 13: Drink water

Continued to struggle with the early mornings, but guzzling half a litre of water the moment my eyes opened gave me a little boost and helped turn the automatic response to the alarm being a resentful groan into, “Must Drink Water.”

Day 14: Read

No longer getting caught in a social media vortex before bed meant I had more time to read. I finished The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau and High Sobriety: my year without booze by Jill Stark; reread Seneca’s On the shortness of life and read Womankind magazine cover to cover.

Day 15: Quit drinking

One of my most destructive habits is drinking too much wine. Even just a few drinks on a Friday night can leave me feeling hazy on a Saturday – any more and I’m left with a crippling hangover. I’ve cancelled plans and skipped important to-dos because I’ve had too much to drink the night before. Forgoing wine after work for the experiment left me feeling fresher throughout the day.

Day 16: Evening questions

Benjamin Franklin had a daily habit of asking himself the evening question, “What good have I done today?” Before bed, I’d scribble a list of all the things I did well on a post-it note – from clearing out my email inbox to paying someone a compliment – and stick the note to the wall as a positive reminder.

Day 17: Oil pulling

Oil pulling is an ancient dental technique that involves swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for around 20-minutes. The idea being that toxins cling to the oil, so spitting them out improves your oral health, whitening your teeth, clearing your skin and giving your immune system a boost. I’d do the oil pulling in the morning while I was showering and getting ready for work and did notice slightly whiter teeth.

Day 18: Take a break

It’s easily to spend the entire working day sitting down glued to the computer, or to work through lunch breaks. I made a concerted effort to get outside and go for a walk or run an errand and get some fresh air each day.

Day 19: Social media limits

If I found myself with a free moment, it was a reflex to check social media. I would rapidly switch my attention from an email, to writing a feature, to Facebook. Limiting how often I could check the time zapping platforms to just once in the morning and once in the evening was admittedly more difficult than I imagined. There were multiple daily battles as I fought the urge to mindlessly scroll through my newsfeed but I did eventually find myself with more time.

Day 20: Incidental movement and exercise

To incorporate more incidental exercise into my day I would do one big stretch upon waking and each time I walked up my stairs at home, I would bear looking ridiculous as I did five push ups before reaching the landing.

Day 21: Do something new

Doing something new can be revitalising. From picking wattle in the park nearby my house, to having a new conversation, trying oysters for the first time since childhood, meeting someone new, reading a new author, and going to a new event, each day I would extend my bravery and curiosity by seeking out a new experience.

Day 22: Learn piano

I gave up piano when I was nine-years-old and my Mum always told me I’d regret it. I regret it. I decided to take up lessons and practice for ten minutes each day. Fumbling over the keys and chords, I mastered Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the opening chords to Valerie.

Day 23: Practice saying no

Often we say yes to things out of guilt, a sense of obligation, to be nice, or a plain disregard for our own time. But saying yes to things we don’t want to do isn’t nice – it deprives of us our time and creates a disconnect from our priorities. Practicing saying no was at times awkward and uncomfortable, but it taught me to better value my time and the time of others.

Day 24: Quit coffee

A day without coffee left me with a throbbing headache and a slump mid-afternoon. By day three, headaches were gone and I looked forward to a cup of green tea in the morning. Being highly sensitive to the ol' cup of joe, It was also easier for me to nod off to sleep at night.

Day 25: Give something away

I donated books to a local pop-up library and dresses I hadn’t worn for a year to a charity store. I sent a friend a gift she wasn’t expecting, money to someone in need, I gave away my time helping a friend with writing a grant, and culled bric-a-brac, shoes and bags I no longer used. It felt good to get rid of clutter but also to think of something each day that could potentially improve someone else’s.

Day 26: Set a daily intention

We can so often meander through our days not really knowing what it is we want to achieve beyond our to-do list. Setting a simple intention for the day such as smile more, or be kinder to myself, or try to catch my thoughts before they spiralled into negativity helped me set a gear for the day ahead.

Day 27: Do something that scares you

Doing something each day that scares you, however small, extends your comfort zone. I did a cartwheel in the park, asked someone out on a date, spoke to a stranger, and faced my social fear and went to a party alone. Pushing myself daily was a challenge but meant that my threshold of what I found daunting was extended just that little bit more.

Day 28: Make something

It had been years since I had made something with my hands and for the experiment I decided to do a sketch each night. There was an initial fear of the pencil and the page, but then I reminded myself of techniques used by several illustrators I’ve interviewed – don’t worry about it being good; just draw.

Day 29: The Pomodoro Technique

This time management method was a favourite amongst interviewees and I found it to be a great way to get started. Knowing that I only had 25-minutes to get something done before earning a five-minute break had me skipping the procrastination stage and speeding through my writing, leaving me with the momentum to keep working through the breaks. 

Day 30: Air bath

Benjamin Franklin believed in the health benefits of nudity and to avoid getting sick would have a daily cold air bath. Opening up the windows to increase circulation, Franklin would sit nude for about half an hour reading or writing. I lasted ten minutes on a cold Melbourne morning with the health benefits of a cold tush left undetected.

Learning to deal with failure: The 'Sabit'

Listening to podcasts was part of my experiment, and one of my favourites is by psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. There is saying that Tara likes to share in her meditations:

“If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills. If you can be cheerful while ignoring aches and pains. If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles. If you can eat the same food every day and be thankful for it. If you can take criticism and blame without resentment. If you can face the world without lies and deceit. If you can relax without liquor. If you can sleep without the aid of drugs… Then you are probably a dog.”

If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills. If you can be cheerful while ignoring aches and pains. If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles. If you can eat the same food every day and be thankful for it. If you can take criticism and blame without resentment. If you can face the world without lies and deceit. If you can relax without liquor. If you can sleep without the aid of drugs… Then you are probably a dog.

We’re all human, and we all slip up from our ideal routine from time to time. I certainly slipped up during the experiment – I slept in, I checked social media outside my allocated time. I forgot my juggling practice.

But instead of falling into the habit of beating myself up, I came up with an idea that both acknowledged and respected the very human tendency to fail: The Sabit.

A Sabit is a Sabbath from habits. It meant that for 24-hours each week, I could have a break from my experiment and have a sleep in, eat sugar and basically do as I pleased.

But this break from being "perfect" also speaks to something greater. That is, in order for creativity to really flourish, we need a break. We need to give ourselves time to breathe. There is a place for doing nothing in our day, and we don't need to taint it by telling ourselves we should be doing more, or we should be doing things differently. 

When I interview people about their daily routines, one of the most common things I hear is how difficult it is to do nothing. People complain that they don’t know what to do when they have nothing to do. Myself included. But we really need to get better at that. We need to get better at enjoying the time we have available to us, instead of mindlessly trying to fill it for the sake of being "productive."

We all have creative slumps. We miss deadlines. No one sticks to their routine all the time. And I think that’s far more interesting.

We’ve got to be kinder to ourselves and stop berating ourselves for having dull days and instead enjoy them for what they are.

If this experiment taught me anything, it's not so much about filling our lives with more and more things to do, but getting better at filling them with the things we want to do and above all, embracing the Sabit!

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