The No-Mirror diet

Vincent, unshaven

That’s me, having not shaven for a week. I don’t beard very well… Why did I do it? Because I couldn’t use a mirror. Have you tried shaving without a mirror? I tried doing it, but I was terrified of slicing off my upper lip.

Last week (or last month, or last year, if you prefer) marked the end of my 1-week-no-mirror diet. I did it because I was reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (I learned of her work through Merlin Mann). In it, she gave some exercises to improve or enhance or ignite your creativity. One of them was to go a week without… you guessed it… mirrors. She actually suggested 4: mirrors, clocks, newspapers and speaking. I only did the no-mirror diet. Let me talk about that first.

What is a mirror?

For my purposes, a mirror is defined as any reflective surface. So a glass window with a dark background on the other side, a silver spoon, my iPhone when there’s no light (I broke my diet briefly while I was trying to take a picture. I’ll waive that off because it wasn’t deliberate. And my reflection wasn’t clear anyway) or still water surfaces count as a mirror. “Use of mirror” is defined as not looking at the reflective surface for the purpose of looking at myself. The general definition means I can’t look at my face, nor look to see if my clothes look ok, nor look to check if my hair is successfully subdued into some semblance of suaveness.

The idea is to stop looking at myself and focus on other people. Since I don’t know how I look, I was more aware of my facial muscles. My eyebrows when I furrow, my cheeks when I smile, my lips when I eat.

My sense of touch was slightly heightened too. Think of it this way. I was a little bit closer to being a blind person. There’s this one thing I cannot see, my face. Once I realised that, I placed myself behind a person who had even less control over how he or she looked like. After a couple of days of the no-mirror diet, I stopped worrying about how I looked like too. I just used my hands to make sure that my face was clear of any debris such as dirt or soap or toothpaste. I could also feel my mustache and beard, something I rarely felt. I tried growing a mustache once, but not this deliberately and for this long.

I also people-watched more. Or more closely. Since I couldn’t look at myself, I looked at other people. I looked at the surroundings. I noticed cats, dogs, lizards, insects, leaves rustling. I felt the sun, the wind and the rain on my skin. It’s exhilarating.

Here’s something interesting as well. Near the end of my diet, strands of hair were already sticking this way and that on my face. I haven’t shaved, remember? When I went to get lunch, I could feel the person serving me emitting… less friendliness. I’m not saying he’s not friendly nor being rude. I felt being treated like a vagabond or a homeless or something. I was dressed in clean clothes, my hair was smoothed down, and I was pretty sure my face wasn’t smudged with dirt. The only difference was the straggly beard and mustache.

I had fun playing as Jason Bourne in my mind for a couple of days. *smile*

When the diet was over, I looked at myself in the mirror. “Hi” I said. “Hi” said a more creatively mature me. As Twyla foretold, I was dying to see how I looked again. I didn’t change much. That was anti-climactic. But the change happened deeper inside of me.

I have to wonder. I could do this because I don’t have to go to an office. How would someone working in an office do this for a week? Or if they worked as a salesperson and needed to meet clients? Perhaps they can shave or put on makeup without a mirror. That would be a neat skill. Post in a comment how you would do it.

No clocks

The idea here is to stop using a clock to gauge the passing of time. Use your intuition instead. I like what Twyla said,

If you’re engaged in what you’re doing, time doesn’t matter. It passes swiftly without notice. If you’re not engaged, the clock will only depress you more.

I don’t wear a watch. The practical reason is that I tend to sweat a lot (I’m hot don’t you know?). The sweat seeps into the wrist strap, and it became a little unpleasant odour-wise. Besides, I counted that I only checked my watch a handful of times in a day. That’s not a very good return on investment.

So I ignored what people say about a watch being a man’s status symbol and what-not, that a woman checks the man’s watch to determine his worth. That’s just rubbish. If a woman judges me and my “worth” based on what I am or am not wearing on my wrist, I prefer that she find another man “worthy” of her inspection. So I stopped wearing a watch. I use my mobile phone to check the time when needed instead.

No newspapers

I haven’t read the newspapers for over a decade now. I practised what Tim Ferriss said in his book 4 Hour Workweek way before he articulated it. Basically, if the news is important enough, my friends and family will talk about it. Occasionally, I would just check the news, just to see what’s been happening. Usually it’s depressing news, which was the primary reason why I stopped reading it.

You should try it. The current equivalent could be social media sites, RSS feeds, technology news sites, and gadget sites. Try not checking news for 1 day. Or go cold turkey and go without checking news for 1 week. If someone told you about the current news, I believe that’s fine. I feel it’s the intent that’s more important.

No speaking

This one’s hard. How do I order lunch without speaking? I’m not quite ready to pretend to be a dumb, pointing at pictures or words of the food items. I could try writing what I want on a card or paper beforehand. I eat pretty much the same thing everyday anyway. We can discuss optimised diet versus variety diet in another article.

I work at home, so I already don’t have much physical contact with people, and fewer opportunities to speak. I don’t believe I’ll benefit very much from a strictly no-speaking diet. But the deliberate enforcement of not speaking might still be useful.


In our world where superficiality and looks control a substantial amount of power, it’s useful and liberating to free yourself from it, if only for a little while. Do it. Go without looking in a mirror for a week. Tell me your reasons for doing it. Tell me your reasons for not doing it. Tell me the possible benefits you will gain. Tell me your objections and resistances. It’s going to be interesting nevertheless.

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