Exercising for 30 minutes a day – tick. Turning the phone off to minimise distractions – tick. Sleeping for seven hours a night and avoiding alcohol – double tick. Scrolling through TikTok to find out more about the latest trend going viral, Monk Mode, I realise I’m already living it. Or trying to, at least.
The #monkmode hashtag, which first came to light in 2022, has really gathered momentum in recent months and has, to date, had almost 79 million views on TikTok, up from 31 million in May 2023.
In brief, it’s a productivity and health trend where people commit to a set period of time – 30 days, 90 days and so on – to introduce ‘monkish’ habits into their day-to-day life.
Some of the most popular “hacks” include turning your phone off or limiting social media use, introducing meditation to your day and giving up booze. It also involves being specific about your goals – do you want to improve your health, concentration or productivity.
I am not, I hasten to add, normally prone to following TikTok trends. And while Monk Mode is proving to be particularly popular with buff 20-something blokes, described by one TikToker, @superiormale as “a state of extreme focus and discipline”, it turns out that it’s particularly appealing to middle-aged mothers like me.
My monkish habits started after I went on a metabolic health retreat last month and learned more about the importance of eating unprocessed food, following the 16:8 diet (fasting for 16 hours, eating for eight) and incorporating more movement into my day. I’ve also been doing Sober October. And so it turns out that I’ve been living in Monk Mode without realising it.
Not grazing on crisps or cheese while bingeing the latest Netflix series has been challenging at times but giving up alcohol hasn’t been nearly as painful as I’d imagined, partly because I’ve replaced it with some delicious booze-free alternatives. And the local farm shop has been doing very well out of my “eat more real food” pledge. I’m not missing the post-lunch slump after introducing more protein into my diet either.
It’s interesting to think about why the term has become so popular now. Is it a response to our ‘always on’ culture? An act of rebellion for digital natives? Although it’s ironic, in that case, that it’s come to the fore through social media and that a number of apps, including one called Monk Mode, are now claiming to help support those who want a digital detox.
Georgina Sturmer, a counsellor who specialises in online addiction and compulsive behaviours, says that the Monk Mode phenomenon is a direct response to living out our lives online.
“The challenge with digital culture is that it’s so addictive. Apps, websites and media channels have all been designed to draw us in and keep us hooked. This can make it really difficult for us to draw boundaries and stick to them. That’s where Monk Mode comes in,” Sturmer says.
Although it might sound like a new fad, it actually draws on ancient, deep-rooted principles. “We might feel it’s something new and cool and influencer-led, but the concept of mindfulness and meditation has been around for thousands of years.”
Dr Louise Goddard-Crawley, a psychologist, says the roots of Monk Mode lie in pursuit of personal growth and self-improvement.
“Its association with muscular blokes on TikTok may stem from its resonance within the realms of fitness and self-improvement. Many enthusiasts employ it as a framework for rigorous workout regimens, strict dietary habits, and other health-related objectives.”
The visible transformation and physical progress of those in Monk Mode – which could range from virtue signalling weight loss to cultivating a six pack – naturally, captures attention on the narcissistic playground that is social media.
And at its core is the establishment of setting clear and compelling goals. “The psychological concept of goal-setting provides individuals with direction, motivation, and a sense of purpose,” says Dr Goddard-Crawley.
But can these micro changes really have long-term lifestyle benefits for someone like me? It all hinges on self-discipline, she says. “Psychologically, habits are formed through a process involving cue, routine, and reward, and Monk Mode helps individuals establish positive habits that support their goals. It’s about the ability to delay gratification, resist distractions and stay committed to tasks and routines.”
Furthermore, it incorporates mindfulness practices, meditation and stress reduction techniques. “These elements can bring enduring benefits to mental health and overall well-being when integrated into one’s daily life,” Dr Goddard-Crawley adds.
So, although I may not be a testosterone-fuelled, protein-shake-swigging 20-something influencer with an enviable six-pack, I think I will benefit from staying in Monk Mode for a bit longer.
Sturmer also believes that declaring we are in Monk Mode through social media posts also helps us to take accountability for our actions. “If we tell the world that we are switching off, then other people will notice if we fail to keep up our end of the bargain,” she says.
“It’s difficult to take this step if you’re scared about missing out, or if you need to keep up with what’s going on around you. But if you feel confident in yourself, your relationships and your ability to make life choices without the ping of your phone, then Monk Mode might be just the ticket.”
So consider this my declaration. Monk Mode is now officially switched on. Maybe I can even persuade my junk-food-loving phone-obsessed teenager to join me.