Actress Madeleine Arthur Reveals the Writing Exercise That Transformed Her Mental Well-being

The Color Out of Space star breaks down the morning mindfulness activity she learned from her acting coach.

Paul Smith Photography
Paul Smith Photography

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Madeleine Arthur is no stranger to the big screen. From her role as Christine in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to her portrayal of young Willa Warren in ABC’s drama series The Family, Arthur’s impressive resume makes it hard to believe she is only 22. This February, Arthur returns as Christine in the sequel To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. She’ll also star in Color Out of Space, a new film that tracks a family’s terrifying transformation, both mental and physical, after a meteorite lands in their garden.  

Arthur tells Thrive about her keys to happiness, which include confidence, cuddles, and mindful morning writing. 

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Madeleine Arthur: Have a glass of water.

TG: What gives you energy?

MA: Fresh air, meditation, sunshine, exercise, laughter, and singing in the shower!

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

MA: I try to learn a new poem every week to keep my memory sharp. Lastly, patience seems to be the key to my life. I feel like nothing gets accomplished without patience.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

MA: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a novel of epic proportions. I read it when I was eighteen and it opened up my world. The novel really increased my desire to learn more about different ways of life around the globe. The book plays with many different themes — to name a few: love, beauty, joy, and the ferocity of the human spirit. I learned so much about humanity from it. There are quite a few people I know who have read it, all of them very different, and each one of them has been awed by the power of its storytelling. If you are looking for a new read, I would highly recommend picking up a copy.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

MA: My phone is on my dresser across the room from my bed. That forces me to get up to turn my alarm off, and it’s not easily accessible to me before bed.

TG: How do you deal with email?

MA: I try to respond as promptly as possible, otherwise I forget. I also try to follow that golden rule of anti-procrastination that, “if it takes less than two minutes, do it.”

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

MA: I don’t look at anything as a failure because that feels too negative. Instead, I try my best to view everything as a learning experience.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
MA: Oh my, there are so many quotes that I love! One that gives me particular strength – it may be overused but for good reason – is, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” which Eleanor Roosevelt said. I find this extremely empowering.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

MA: I write a list in a notebook. I find that the act of physically writing something down is soothing and helps me achieve my goals.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

MA: I’m still young, and still working on that! I found meditation when I was about fourteen; a gymnastics coach guided our group through meditations, and my mom taught me about it to help me fall asleep.

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?

MA: Yes, I do; my Mom, my Auntie June, and Joely Richardson.

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?

MA: When I start to overthink the most mundane things.

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?

MA: I make sure my blood sugar levels are up and that I’m hydrated, then I go for a walk outside.

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?

MA: Sometimes I journal first thing in the morning. An acting coach introduced me to “Morning Pages” from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The idea is to write three pages with abandon first thing in the morning. There is no correct way to do it, and from my understanding it’s a stream of consciousness exercise, so there is no editing. I have found that when I take the time to write these pages, my creativity levels spike and I feel a little more grounded.

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?

MA: I take a deep breath and remember something I’m grateful for that triggers me into a positive outlook.

TG: What brings you optimism?

MA: I feel like optimism is such a wide category. Climate activists give me optimism, Greta Gerwig gives me optimism, sunshine gives me optimism, and eating a delicious meal gives me optimism. Above all, waking up and remembering that I’m alive and lucky to be where I am gives me optimism.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit?

MA: It’s nothing new, but I’ve always read a book before bed. I find it clears my mind and calms my body.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit?

MA: I have always found that the secret to connection is to ask questions, listen, and make eye contact.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit?

MA: I put my phone away while I’m working on something. When my phone isn’t near me, and I stay away from it for a minimum of forty-five minutes to an hour, I am far more productive. 

TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?

MA: When I realized I had confidence in my competence.

TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning?

MA: I’m so slow in the morning; I have no time saver. I need to figure that out!

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

MA: The last part of my evening routine is cuddling my dog.

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