Monk Mode: The Ultimate Guide

How much of your time is spent on activities that prevent you from achieving your goals?

Those two hours each day watching Netflix. Taking out your phone at random times to check your Instagram. Getting drunk with friends on a Saturday night.

In monk mode, you eliminate all of these.

Instead, you will use that time to build that online side hustle you always talk about. Or you will get fit. Or learn to program.

Whatever it is — it finally gets done.

Monk mode acts as a self-development cocoon. You isolate yourself to emerge transformed.

Does that sound radical?

Yes.

Does it work?

Absolutely.

Read on to learn what types of monk mode there are, how I went about it, and what you can do to get the most out of it.

Definition: What Is Monk Mode?

Monk mode is the practice of temporarily cutting out all distractions to achieve one’s goals faster. These distractions include:

  • Social media — posting to increase self-esteem
  • The news — feasting on human tragedy
  • Netflix — mindlessly binge-watching TV shows
  • Video games — escaping to virtual worlds
  • Socializing — talking about sports and gossip
  • Dating apps — randomly hooking up via Tinder

By removing all noise, you free up time and energy to invest in your life’s goal. This could be a business objective, a fitness goal, or a skill-related target.

Oftentimes, monk mode is combined with rules for healthy living. Measures include:

  • No junk food
  • No alcohol
  • No smoking
  • No drugs
  • No porn
  • Regular exercise
  • Regular sleeping patterns

Monk mode is an expression of the minimalist mindset. The fewer things we focus on, the more progress we will see with these carefully chosen activities.

The statue of a Buddha with the rules of monk mode next to it

What About the Name?

The term monk mode was made-up by the online self-help world.

“Monk mode” is obviously a reference to cloistered life. For thousands of years, monks of various religious belief systems have renounced the world so they could focus on spiritual goals.

And in fact, some people do combine monk mode with spiritual practices like meditation or praying.

Yet, unlike real monks, most monk mode practitioners don’t desire lifelong introspection. The spiritual component is usually a means to an end. It provides the focus needed to perform at a high level.

Does It Work?

Since the term “monk mode” is a rather recent invention, there are no studies on it. But the concept itself is widespread.

In professional sports, you have training camps, where you do nothing but train all day for several weeks to get ready for a certain event.

In the military, you have intense boot camps, where do you nothing but train for your upcoming deployment in a war zone.

NASA puts its astronauts through a rigorous 3-month intensive training, prior to a mission.

This is empirical proof that monk mode works.

Neither the multi-billion dollar business of professional sports nor the military or NASA can afford to lose.

And the best tool to succeed at anything is monk mode.

My Personal Experiences With Monk Mode

Throughout my life, I have come back to monk mode again and again. The moderate amount of success I have had, I attribute to my ability to completely submerge myself in one thing. Here are a few examples.

Learning To Play the Guitar

I have no musical talent whatsoever. This became clear early on. I started taking guitar lessons around the age of 8, more to satisfy my mum’s wishes than out of my own accord.

I stank. All the kids that started with me got better than me quickly. Eventually, I quit the guitar lessons for judo, something I truly enjoyed. I thought that was it.

But at the age of 17, things changed. I got really into bands like Type O Negative. Several of my friends were good or even great musicians. Suddenly, I wanted to be a shredder more than anything else in my life.

I went into complete monk mode. It was first 3, then 4 hours of deliberate daily practice. Scales, chord progressions, playback practice, improvisation practice, music theory, ear training — the whole shebang. I came home from school, and I practiced. 7 days a week. In the first two years, I missed 2 days of practice in total.

To increase practice time, I went so far as only doing my homework every 3 months or so. Then I would do it really well, and volunteer. My teachers assumed I was a diligent student and left me alone for the rest of the time.

Despite my lack of talent, I became at least decent. I caught up to people that had many years of guitar lessons over me. It was my first inkling that monk mode is the key to achieving anything.

Getting My BJJ Black Belt

When I was 23, I fell in love with the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The problem — I was living in Germany at the time, and there were about two schools in the whole country.

It was time for monk mode again.

I bought instructional videos, which I watched religiously. I found training partners to drill with at home. Simultaneously, I got a scholarship to a university in the US, so I could start training at a legit gym.

Once I got to the States, all I did was study and train. In the little time left, I watched more instructionals. I bought training mats to put in my tiny student room, so I could do solo drills as well as partner drills with my girlfriend at the time. I also had a very generous coach who offered to meet up with me alone once a week.

I got my purple belt in 1 year and 11 months, which is very fast.

When I returned to Germany, I continued to train hard for one year but then went into monk monk for something else (another story for another time). But eventually, as a brown belt several years later, I went all in again and consequently got my black belt relatively soon after. It was another indicator of the power of monk mode.

Learning Customer Acquisition

When I started out as a content marketer, I would make money by creating SEO-optimized content for other agencies. They in turn would then sell that content to the actual client.

As you can imagine, the agency took a significant percentage. So at some point, I thought, “I could just as well cut out the middleman.”

But that would mean learning how to generate leads myself, specifically how to cold call and cold email.

As I started to read up on it, I realized this was a major project. Cold acquisition is not only about being a great salesman (which I am naturally not), but it’s also a numbers game. A typical conversion rate is 2–5 percent. So you have to contact a lot of people.

It was time for monk mode again.

I started to study what worked and didn’t work. Sales strategies. Cover letters. Finding out about contact details. Researching people on LinkedIn. Dealing with objections. Drafting sample emails.

But more importantly, I started to reach out, from day one. I knew I would not be smooth at first, but that is part of it. You learn by doing. I would contact potential clients nonstop from 9 to 5. After business hours, I would draft emails to be automatically sent out in the morning to more clients. The only time I stopped was to eat, exercise, or go to the bathroom.

After three months of intense focus, I had several clients willing to pay me more than triple my previous rate. Monk mode had once more done its magic.

My Monk Mode Schedule

06:30 am. I wake up after about 8.5 hours of deep sleep. No alarm. The most important thing I don’t do after waking up: checking my phone.

Instead, I start working, oftentimes still in bed. I will get started on my most important task and work on it for two to three hours.

When I notice my energy is waning, I will switch to less intense maintenance work, like processing my GTD inbox or answering some emails. But I will only do that after the most important project has been taken care of.

I will also plan the rest of my day in writing, to make sure I focus my energy on the activities with the highest ROI.

I usually take at least one break during this first block. It could be taking a shower, doing some chores, or going down to the beach for a quick swim. Anything to get me out of my head.

12 pm. Take a walk. Either eat at a healthy restaurant on the way or cook at home after returning. I like to take my time with this, around two hours. This recharges me for my next sprint of work.

2 pm. More focused work, another two hours. I will look at my daily plan first to make sure I am still on track. Since you already used up some willpower, it is easier to get distracted with pointless busy work. Your daily plan will counteract that.

4 pm. Workout. I start with a stretching routine, for general mobility and also because I have knee problems. Then several sets of pull-ups, push-ups, and some squat variations.

6 pm. My last work session, usually another one to two hours. After that, I am mentally fried, but also content. I know that I have made progress today. And the more days I add up like this, the more of a compound effect it will have.

8 pm. At this point, I might check my WhatsApp and social media accounts for 5–10 minutes and reply to some important people in my life. It depends on my willpower reserve that day. I usually time myself while doing so.

After this, I put my phone in silent mode for the night, leave it at home and go for another walk. Alternatively, I just might sit outside for an hour, go in and out of meditation, or listen to the waves if I am somewhere with a beach.

When I return home, I light candles and turn off all artificial light. Then I cook and eat a healthy meal.

10 pm. Go to bed.

A schedule of a typical day in monk mode

How Certain Personality Types Play Into Monk Mode

Everybody experiences monk mode slightly differently.

Introverts will more easily adapt to the requirements of monk mode. They are already used to spending time alone.

The danger here is that they isolate themselves even more than they usually do. Therefore, it can be a good idea to choose a goal that has a social component. Producing an interview podcast would be an example.

For extroverts, it will be harder. Being cut off from their social ecosystem will make them suffer. But on the upside, they will learn a new mode of being productive, i.e., “silent work” like writing or programming.

Type A personalities will love monk mode if they learn to prioritize. Since they are usually trying to excel in more than one area, that can be a challenge. But once they do, they will outwork anybody else.

In contrast, if you are the easy-going type, monk mode will be hard. You are used to doing things whenever you feel like them, and that includes lots of socializing and digital distractions.

But you also sense that you are falling short of your own potential. If that bothers you enough, monk mode will be the tool to fix that. Just be prepared for the initial rough patch.

What 7 Benefits You Can Expect

There are several benefits you will experience if you commit to monk mode.

1. Feeling More Content

When you focus on your priority, you will feel more content. You know you are investing in the right things which will result in a high-quality life.

2. Better Sleep

Every time I enter monk mode, I am surprised at how much better I sleep. But it makes sense, considering that at the end of each day, you feel like you have accomplished something. With that calm, sleep comes easy.

3. Improved Mental Health

This is anecdotal evidence. As I said, there are no studies on monk mode yet. But I have noticed a significant improvement when it comes to anxiety or depressive streaks during monk mode.

And it makes sense — by shutting off negative outside influences, you are actively protecting your peace.

4. Improved Physical Health

When I go into monk mode, I can really focus on my food and enjoy it, which leads to less overeating. I also am more likely to get my workouts in because there are fewer demands on my time.

Maybe the most important change is that I start to walk a lot more. This helps me to recover from intense bouts of work. Not only does it refresh me, but it’s also a type of cardio, great for losing body fat.

5. More Clarity

You don’t realize how much of a dazed state you live in until you go monk mode. For the first time in years, the mental fog will clear. You can suddenly think straight again. This is the perfect time to make important life decisions, be it career choices, relationships, or healthy habits.

6. More Independence

The distractions we indulge in — social media, binge-watching, mindless socializing — are not just petty vices. They are addictions.

When you learn how to be in monk mode, you will become independent of these crutches. You can be your own person again.

7. Kick-starting Your Goals

Let’s assume we all get 10 daily energy points. On a good day, maybe 2 or 3 of these points will go toward your number one priority in life. All the remaining points will diffuse over work, relationships, hobbies, etc.

In monk mode, that changes.

Suddenly, not a day goes by where you don’t spend at least 8 or 9 of your points on your most important goal in life. And the longer you keep that focus up, the more the power of accumulation kicks in. Milestones that would normally have taken you a year are now achieved within two months.

The 7 benefits of monk mode, illustrated

Possible Downsides

There are also a few potential downsides when you enter into monk mode.

It’s Not That Practical

The modern world makes it difficult for us to enter into monk mode.

As soon as you leave your house, your senses are bombarded with external distractions. Billboards. TVs in waiting areas. Public news feeds. People talking on the phone. Traffic noise.

Then there are our 9-to-5 jobs. During those hours, we will be exposed to countless distractions in the form of ringing telephones, customer emails, unnecessary meetings, office gossip, etc.

Third, there are other people. They will use modern technology to constantly contact and distract you — WhatsApp, FaceTime, email, direct messages.

Last but not least, technology itself will not shut up. App notifications, pop-ups, cookie notices, and email newsletters will keep interrupting you.

You will have to go out of your way to avoid that.

But you could also take that as an incentive to rethink your current situation. Maybe it’s time to move somewhere remote? Quit your 9 to 5 and become a digital nomad? Stop depending on other people and technology so much?

The world might not go out of its way to accommodate your monk mode experiment. But if you take action, it can be managed.

You Might Get Lonely

Foregoing social events might lead to loneliness. This depends on the person. I can go very long without suffering too much from that. For other people, even just a few days without seeing somebody might already feel like hell.

It’s okay to make some concessions here. After all, real monks live a communal life too. So, before you go nuts, meet with a friend.

Just agree beforehand to leave the smartphones at home. And then go for a walk together, in a park or a forest. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much more you will be able to enjoy each other’s company.

How To Do Monk Mode

With the following 21 tips, you will get the most out of your monk mode experience.

1. Choose a Goal

The whole point of monk mode is to accomplish something, be it starting a business, learning a skill, or dropping a bad habit.

Only if you have that purpose, will you be able to deal with the isolation.

Everybody’s goals will be different. But here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Physical goals:

  • Hit a certain number on your squat, bench press, or deadlift 
  • Get to 10 percent body fat
  • Train for a certain athletic event, like your first MMA match
  • Learn to execute certain moves, like a yoga flow
  • Do side splits

Mental goals:

Financial / business goals:

  • Learn a new job-related skill, like programming
  • Find a new job
  • Start your own business
  • Create a website
  • Execute a new marketing channel, like paid LinkedIn ads
  • Learn to cold call
  • Land a certain number of new clients
  • Save a certain amount of money

Spiritual goals:

  • Learn to meditate
  • Read philosophical and spiritual texts
  • Fast

Social goals:

  • Learn to listen
  • Learn to negotiate
  • Learn to influence people
  • Learn to say “No”
  • Learn to flirt

To be clear, just because you are in monk mode doesn’t mean your goal can’t have a social component.

Even something like video gaming is on the table. That is if you are aspiring to make a living from esports.

In either case, you are engaging in deliberate practice to reach a goal. You are not killing time.

2. Drop a Bad Habit

For a goal in monk mode, you can also choose to drop a bad habit. Examples would be:

  • Stop eating junk food
  • Stop drinking coffee
  • Stop drinking alcohol
  • Stop smoking
  • Stop taking drugs

A word of caution: Using monk mode to drop a bad habit is a mixed bag.

If you have a full-blown-out addiction, having extra time on your hands is not necessarily a good thing. You might not know what to do with yourself and engage in addictive behavior even more.

Therefore, it’s still important to have a positive goal, something that gives you purpose and will keep you busy.

I would also recommend joining a community of people with the same problem. This will act as a support system. Depending on your bad habit, AA, Weight Watchers or an online community might be such a system.

3. Choose One Thing

It is tempting to set yourself several goals during monk mode. “I want to get ripped. I also want to triple my income. And I would like to date someone extremely attractive, too.”

That is a mistake.

Choose one thing.

Then give that one thing your full attention. This way, you are guaranteed to see extraordinary results. It’s unavoidable because your essential activity is getting all of your energy and time.

In comparison, when you split yourself up over several things, you will never go beyond mediocre. You are not giving it your all. No amount of wishful thinking will change that fact.

Two diagrams comparing doing everything vs. doing one thing

4. Assess Your Chosen Goal

Not all goals are created the same. There are four ways to categorize them:

  1. High desire, low talent
  2. High desire, high talent
  3. Low desire, high talent
  4. Low desire, low talent

Remember how I went into monk mode for learning to play the guitar? My desire to do so was very high, but my natural talent was low.

Then I did the BJJ thing. Here my desire was high, and I also had a bit of a natural knack for it.

With cold calling, my desire was low (like many people, I am afraid of it), but it turned out I can do it quite well.

I always stayed away from low-desire, low-talent activities. Math is such a thing for me, I’m terrible at it.

For obvious reasons, you should avoid number 4. If there is neither desire nor talent, you won’t see much success.

Number 1 — high desire, low talent — is also difficult to go through with. You are missing out on much of the positive reinforcement necessary for the learning process. But if it’s truly your heart’s desire, it can be done.

Number 2 — high desire, high talent — is the obvious choice. You will enjoy the process, and you will see results fast. Such a project is ideal for monk mode.

But I will say that my most rewarding monk mode experiments have always been number 3 projects.

When you have an aversion to doing something, but you are actually good at it, it means there is a lack of self-knowledge. You are indulging in fantasies about who you are.

When you break through that mental barrier, you will not only have acquired a new skill — it will mean real personal growth.

5. Make It Specific

Whatever goal you end up choosing, make it specific.

“I want to make more money” is not a well-defined goal.

“I want to triple my current income via freelancing by January 1st next year” is.

To make a goal specific:

  • make it countable (“triple my current income”)
  • specify the means (“via freelancing”)
  • set your yourself a time frame (“by January 1st”)

6. Choose Your Intensity

There are different intensities you can apply when you enter into monk mode.

The most radical version is to cut all distractions, including:

  • Checking social media
  • Checking the news
  • Watching TV
  • Watching Netflix
  • Watching YouTube
  • Playing video games
  • Socializing with friends and family
  • Dating

Alternatively, you could do it little by little. You could cut the happy hour at Applebee’s. Or you could limit the binge-watching to one episode a day.

To make that decision, consider your current lifestyle.

If most of your day is surfing the web, checking Instagram, and watching porn, a new habit like “Don’t check my phone until noon” will result in more productivity.

But for someone who is already rather focused, the intensity needs to be higher. They should go full monk mode to experience significant benefits.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend taking on as much intensity as you can take, but never more. There is no point to go full monk mode if you cave after half a day.

Also, pay attention to what else is going on in your life. For example, if you are currently experiencing stress because someone close to you is very ill, that will deplete your willpower.

Take your specific circumstances into account.

7. Choose a Time Frame

Will you enter into monk mode for a week? Two weeks? Three months? A year?

This time frame correlates with the aforementioned intensity factor.

Specifically, the shorter the time frame, the easier it is to uphold a high intensity.

So if you go full monk mode, that is easier to do if it’s only for a week. But go for six months, and it will be much harder to stick with.

When you are aware of this dynamic, it is easier to plan for it.

Having said that here are some common monk mode variations to choose from:

  • “Monk of the Hour.” Time-block a few hours each day during which you cut out all distractions. This is akin to what Cal Newport calls “Deep Work.” Good for people with busy lives who still want to experience some of the benefits of monk mode.
  • “Monk of the Weekend.” As the name suggests — enter into monk mode all weekend. It’s a great way to counterbalance a distracting work week and get some real work done.
  • “Monk of the Week.” Here you go monk mode during the week and take the weekends off to socialize. This works best if you have a remote job. Otherwise, the workplace will interrupt your state of focus too much.
  • “Intermittent Monk.” The most popular version of monk mode. You decide on a certain time frame, from one week to six months, during which you go all in on. Once that intense period is over, you are allowed to relax a bit, before you go for the next sprint.
  • “Seasonal Monk.” Pick a season. Winter in a cold country is ideal for that. When there is not much to do outside, it’s easier to stay at home and get things done.
  • “Forever Monk.” Real monks take lifelong vows, and so could you. But this is more an ideal to aspire to than an actual lifestyle. You should sometimes take a break and enjoy the fruits of your work.
A diagram of the different monk-mode types

As a bonus, here is a hybrid rhythm that works very well for beginners:

Do one day of full monk mode. That’s manageable for anybody. And it’s a great way to see what it feels like. Then take a break for one day, where you go back to “normal.”

Now you go full monk mode again, but this time for two days. The pause, again, is one day.

After that, you go strict for — you guessed it — three days. Then the one-day break. Then 4 days of monk mode; one-day break, 5 days; one-day break; and so on.

It really builds that muscle in a systematic, sustainable fashion.

8. Define It in Writing

Once you have chosen how to go about monk mode, make an agreement about it with yourself in writing.

Make this agreement as clear as possible. There should be no wriggle room. Here is an example:

“I agree to go into monk mode for the next two weeks, starting October 10th. I will adhere to the following rules during that time:

  • No surfing the web, unless it is work-related
  • No checking social media
  • No checking the news, online or offline
  • No social calls
  • No junk food
  • No alcohol

During that time, I will focus on my most important project, which is to start an online side hustle. I will do so for at least 6 hours a day after I come home from my job. I will time myself using the Toggl app.”

Then put that agreement up in a place where you can see it. Read it to yourself aloud first thing in the morning.

9. Create Accountability

It is much easier to stick with a behavioral change when you create a system of accountability. Here are a few ideas, from less to more radical:

  • Tell your friends and family about your project to create some external pressure. We persevere longer when we don’t want to look like losers.
  • Start a blog on WordPress.com documenting your progress and your struggles for the world. Tell people about it.
  • Get an accountability coach. It’s a great motivation if you have to report to someone daily.
  • Place your money where your mouth is. Using a service like stickK, define a financial punishment. For example, you might have to pay $50 to an organization that you despise (like the ‘other’ party) for every day that you don’t stick with the program.

10. Prepare Your Environment

To get ready for monk mode, you need to create a distraction-free environment. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Block all news sites, porn sites, and other websites you visit for distraction. Use a browser extension like BlockSite for that. Do the same on your phone.
  • Delete all the apps on your phone you can do without, especially all social media and news apps.
  • Turn off all notifications for the remaining apps in the settings of your smartphone.
  • Consider asking someone you trust to change the passwords and emails for your social media accounts.
  • Sell or donate your TV. If you don’t want to part with it forever, put it into storage. Same with your video-game equipment.
  • Cancel any email subscriptions you might have.
  • Set an auto-responder for your email, explaining to people that you are currently working on a big project and therefore only checking your email once a day / once a week.
  • If you want to go all in, consider canceling your internet at home.
  • Feeling even more daring? Leave your phone with a friend.

11. Inform Your Friends

When you go full monk mode, you will eliminate all social interactions (unless your goal has a social component, like learning to cold call).

Understandably, most of your friends and family will not be thrilled by your choice.

Explain monk mode to them, your reasons, and what you are trying to accomplish. Some people will get it, but many won’t. Either way, after this, don’t explain yourself again. Focus on your task.

If you enter into monk mode for an extended period of time, like several weeks or months, it’s okay to check your messages once a day. Do it for 5–10 minutes (time yourself), to make sure that everybody is alive and well. Reply to your 2–3 most important people. Then get back to work.

12. Stop Dating

Great sex is one of the best things in life. But there is something to be said for rechanneling that libidinous energy into your most important goal, if just temporary.

Also, the accompanying dating process, as fun as it can be, is a massive time sink if you want to get things done (unless dating is your big project).

So if you want to make progress, stop dating during monk mode. If you need sexual release, masturbate. A friend with benefits could serve a similar function, but these things, too, get time-intense (and complicated) quickly. Paid sex would be another option if that’s legal where you are at. But I would recommend to just sit it out.

If you are in a relationship, that’s more tricky. You made a commitment in the past to spend time with someone on a regular basis (as part of the relationship escalator). Maybe you are even living together. Understandably, most people won’t react well if you suddenly want to put that commitment on hold.

One good solution is to go into monk mode together. If you are both game, you can hold each other accountable and help each other through rough patches. You might even be working on the same goal together, like building a business or getting fit.

But oftentimes, your partner will have different ideas. In this case, you can opt for a partial monk, where you go into seclusion for a few hours a day and spend time together during the rest of the day. Many well-known artists who were married chose that approach, by renting a workshop away from home.

Last but not least, you can break up. That sounds radical, but in many cases, it’s the right decision. If you are serious about a certain goal in your life, and your partner is incompatible with that, it’s better to end it than to give up on your dream.

13. Consider Frugalism

It’s harder to make monk mode work if you have a job and bills to pay. Your 9 to 5 will swallow up most of your time and energy.

This is not something that has to be endured. You could very well go extreme minimalism, and survive on less than $1000 a month. Then you could quit your 9 to 5 and survive by making the bare minimum through freelancing. We are talking about 1–2 hours of work a day. I did that for 1.5 years to get the first draft of a book project done, and it worked like a charm.

I understand that most people will bulk at this idea. But most people also never actualize their dreams. They do what is expected of them, but come to regret it later.

In my opinion, for making your most important goal come true, one or two years of frugalism is a low price to pay. Plus, the 9-to-5 life will not go away; you can go back to it any time.

14. Avoid Multitasking

There is a very common belief in self-help circles that in order to increase your productivity, you should listen to podcasts while working out, practice your Spanish while stretching, or do Kegel exercises when driving.

Don’t.

Multitasking just makes you feel productive, but you are not actually being productive. There is plenty of research showing just that.

Give one thing your full attention, whatever you do.

15. Track Your Progress

Track your progress with your chosen goal. What gets measured gets managed.

You could use a note app like Evernote for that, a Google spreadsheet, or simply a physical notebook.

Another great idea is to put up a huge whiteboard in your room. There, you keep tallies of how many practice sessions you did today, the number of words you wrote, or how many prospective clients you called. Because you can always see it, it helps you stay on track.

16. Plan for Strategic Rests

You cannot work nonstop. You need breaks. But the key is to think about energy management. Where you would normally check Facebook or watch Netflix, you will now take a walk or exercise for 10 minutes.

The difference — the first kind depletes you, while the second kind recharges you. Have you ever noticed how after a long walk, you are ready to focus again? You will never get that from scrolling through your Instagram feed.

Here is a list of recharging activities:

  • Take a walk
  • Do some stretching
  • Exercise; just a few bodyweight exercises like pistols or pull-ups will do
  • Take a nap
  • Masturbate (without watching porn)
  • Take a shower
  • Clean your room

Did you note how all of these are physical activities that don’t require a screen? That is the common theme here.

17. Meditate

The best way to recharge yourself is meditation.

There is nothing that comes even close. When you reemerge from your “trance,” you feel deeply relaxed, as if you slept for several hours, even though you just closed your eyes for 20 minutes sitting in a chair.

On top, your mood improves. You have a new positive outlook on your tasks again, whereas just a few minutes ago you were despairing.

Yet the best thing is that sensation of “falling” through an endless space, you sometimes get. It is like a wonderful drug trip without the side effects.

Monk mode is ideal for learning how to meditate, as your bee-hive-like mind is quieter than usual. Take that chance.

Here are two tips to get started.

First, develop the habit. Set a timer. Start very easy, 5 minutes is plenty. After a week, go up to 6 minutes. Keep increasing the time in baby steps until you get to 30 minutes.

Second, observe yourself. If you feel upset, watch yourself being upset. How your heart beats. How you are breathing rapidly. How certain negative thoughts keep coming and going.

Apply this concept to everything. Observe yourself being bored. Horny. Afraid. Tired. Excited.

Just by doing so, the turmoil you are experiencing will eventually resolve. When that happens, start to observe yourself as you relax. How your heart is now beating more evenly. How steady your breath is. How your body is being pushed into the chair by gravity.

The sensation of “falling” that happens after that is hard to describe, and I won’t attempt to do so. The only advice I have is to let it happen and not be afraid. That too will take practice.

18. Keep Regular Sleep Times

Never compromise on sleep. It is the basis of productivity. Without proper sleep, whatever goal you aspire to becomes unattainable.

The most important thing you can do to improve your sleep is to keep a regular bedtime.

This way, you program your body to get the most out of your night. It will automatically start to feel sleepy at a certain time, fall asleep faster and get more deep sleep. In the morning, you will be ready to tackle the day.

Also, going to bed at the same time each night will give your days in monk mode structure. You will eat at certain times, you will take breaks at certain times. Such a structure is another key to productivity. 

19. Plan for the Occasional Lapse

Monk mode is meant to make you more productive.

But when the isolation becomes too much, that, too, will sap your productivity. There is no point soldiering through for weeks if you don’t function well.

Should that happen, by all means, meet a friend. Have sex. Order a pizza.

If such an occasional break makes you adhere to monk more over the long term, that is completely justifiable.

It can even be a good idea to plan for these lapses. You might make Sunday your cheat day, where you are allowed to have a glass of wine or two while watching a whole season of Breaking Bad.

Never become dogmatic about monk mode. It is a tool, a means to an end. We are trying to accomplish a goal, not to become real monks.

20. Journal About Your Journey

Journaling is one of the most valuable tools we have as humans, inside or outside of monk mode.

But it is especially effective during monk mode.

Because there a no outside distractions, your inner “permeability” increases. Thoughts come to the forefront that you would otherwise have ignored for years.

By journaling, you will help this process along a hundred-fold. New connections will be made. Do yourself a favor, and start journaling during monk mode.

Two diagrams comparing isolated thoughts vs. connected journaling

The easiest way to do so is to get a notebook and a pen. There is something to be said for the old-fashioned way. But if, like me, you are slow at handwriting, it’s okay to type on your computer. Evernote is a good program for that. If neither of those is your thing, record yourself on your phone.

If you have trouble getting started, you can use the following questions as starting points:

  • How am I feeling today? If I am doing well, why is that? If I am struggling, why is that?
  • What did I do yesterday? Did I succeed with what I had planned to do? If not, why not?
  • Overall, am I making progress with my chosen goal?
  • What bottlenecks do I need to remove to become more productive?
  • What thoughts keep coming back to me during monk mode? At what times? Why?

Stick with it for a few days and you will soon “uncork” yourself. Many days, you will have to stop yourself, just to get other things done too.

21. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

When you try to establish a new behavior, it is normal to fall off the wagon a few times. Don’t sweat it. On the contrary, reframe it as progress — because it is. 

Failing is part of learning. When you fail with monk mode, it means you are on your way to learning how to stay in monk mode.

What will eventually happen is that your failures will be spaced further and further apart. That is because you are truly starting to appreciate the benefits you get from that new behavior.

Be patient with yourself.

Pitfalls To Watch Out For

When you just start out, monk mode will be a real challenge. Watch out for these pitfalls.

Boredom

Wherever we are — at the train station, at a restaurant, at the doctor’s office — there is instant entertainment available. Just take out your phone and go to YouTube.

Not during monk mode. You will have to learn to be bored again. Bored waiting for the subway, your food, your doctor.

But that’s a blessing in disguise. Instead of walking through the world like a somnambulist, you will start to notice things. How the people at the train station secretly pick their noses. The background music in the restaurant. Your doctor’s terrible taste in interior design.

Eventually, boredom will transform into more everyday awareness.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Many people are averse to drugs and potential withdrawal symptoms.

But in truth, we are all addicted already. Just because these addictions are socially sanctioned doesn’t make them less dangerous.

One of these addictions is the news. Another one is social media. A third one is socializing around alcohol.

When you go full monk mode, you will quit all of these things. And you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Prepare yourself for that. And once these symptoms kick in, don’t wait around. Do something physical right away. A walk is ideal for that. Leave your phone at home. Drive to a forest, a mountain, or the sea. Walk.

This will calm you. And eventually, the withdrawal symptoms will get less and less. Just like with any other drug, your system will cleanse itself.

Psychological Baggage

Our brains hate silence. Because when we are alone with ourselves, we are forced to confront our fears and traumas.

Your anxiety to speak out? Your dissatisfaction with your career? The lack of meaningful relationships in your life? Say hello to all of them.

This will be tough at first. But hang in there. By being confronted with your psychological baggage, you get the chance to work through it. Journaling will help with that.

Facing the pain is how we grow.

Pushback

Your friends and family will not be thrilled when you go into monk mode.

They will feel like you owe them something. And they will let you know.

It is not easy to withstand that pressure.

But it comes down to this — do you want to make other people happy by living up to their expectations?

Or will you endure the temporary disappointment to build the life that you really want to live?

Put like that, it is obvious what you should be doing. So brace yourself for the pushback. Learn how to not let things bother you.

When you start earning the rewards from monk mode, it will all have been worth it.

FAQ

33 thoughts on “Monk Mode: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. I am looking for something like this.
    Described in detail and I will give a try fo sure.

    Thanks for wonderful monk mode knowledge.

    Reply
    • Hey Sudesh, glad you found the article helpful. Let me know how it goes. I am pretty deep in monk mode myself right now, but it is starting to pay off (like it always does).

      Reply
      • Hey, i was in monk mode but Idk what happened one day i completely stopped my works and started indulging in the bad habits. I was clean for about 2 weeks, has this ever happened to you?

        Reply
        • Hi lolwa, these things that happen prove you are human too. This doesn’t mean you failed. Restart again. Good luck!

          Reply
  2. Hi, do you have any monk mode communities or groups so you can go through this with others, and keep each other accountable?

    Reply
    • Hi Ben, I saw a few monk-mode communities on Facebook, but they seem to have a different drift. Alternatively, I offer accountability coaching. If that is something you might be interested in, shoot me an email: niels@nielsbohrmann.com

      Reply
  3. Should you treat monk mode like Dopamine detox or still allow yourself to indulge in instant dopamine activities like social media throughout monk mode?

    Reply
    • I would abstain from activities like social media or gaming. First, they are colossal time wasters, and a big part of monk mode is finding time for your most important work. Second, like you suggested, they create a quick dopamine high. But after every quick high also comes a crash. Once you are done scrolling or gaming, you don’t feel better, you feel worse. In comparison, if you go outside and take a walk, you will feel refreshed and ready to focus again.

      Reply
  4. Hi Niels – great article and thank you for sharing your journey and knowledge. I have a 9-5, married, have two kids and hate my career. My goal is to start my own business. How can I use monk mode to kick-start this journey? Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Frederick, great goal. Obviously, in your situation, it’s not an option to go full monk mode. So, you’ll have to adjust the concept to your circumstances. Focus on carving out a certain amount of deep-work time each day for the business; for example, two hours each day during the week and then four hours each day on the weekend. During that time, no interruptions; no wife, no kids, no social media. Either get up so early, everybody is still asleep, or stay longer at work and use an empty conference room. Or rent a small office for two hours each day at a nearby coworking space. Whatever it takes. The next thing — narrow it down. If you are doing marketing for your new business, pick one outlet. For example, just do Facebook Reels, not Facebook Reels, Google Ads, SEO, and Instagram simultaneously. With limited time, you can only reach critical mass in one area, not ten. Lastly, be patient. Understand, you are playing the long game. It will take several years to build up the business systems necessary if you can only give it a few hours per week. But it will be worth it. It will get you to a level of freedom — in terms of finances, location, working hours — that is nearly impossible to attain with a 9-to-5 job. Go for it.

      Reply
  5. Needed to read this.
    Great article. I had to turn my monitor down to do it, and my eyes feel like I’ve been in a swimming pool for hours, but It was definitely worth it. I’ll be coming back for reference. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Good suggestion about the dark-mode thing, hadn’t even thought about that. I added it to my to-do list. Will take a while though, I’m still working on some other design issues. Glad you still enjoyed the article!

      Reply
  6. Hi Neils….Great read….absolutely enjoyed it..I have been wanting to do something of this sort for a long time but was lacking the proper method. Your article helped me a lot.
    I’m 18 years old living with my family and preparing for a competitive exam in India to study medicine but entering into complete monk mode is kind of hard for me as I don’t live alone. But i desperately want to accomplish my goal. I have less than 2 months and just now learnt about this monk mode. How can I start Monk Mode and accomplish my goal of becoming a Med student? Thank you soo much.

    Reply
    • Hi Sai, great to hear from you. Yes, living with your family will make it more difficult to go through with monk mode. You are always at the mercy of someone else interrupting you. But it’s still possible. Try to find a place to study at where nobody knows you. This might be a public library, a quiet coffee shop, or even a bench at the park. Also, make sure to set yourself a goal in terms of minimum study time — and monitor that goal. I use a free software called Toggl for that, but there are plenty of other apps available. I usually recommend starting with a rather low daily quota (like 30 minutes), but since your exam is already in less than 2 months, you need to go full in; I would guess at least 3 hours a day, if not more. Finally, and this is especially powerful, find an accountability partner; ideally someone else studying for the same exam. Then remind each other daily to get busy; also, tell each other how many hours you studied at the end of the day, and what exactly you were working on; and motivate each other when you are feeling down or are experiencing self-doubts. This, more than anything, will make you see it through. It’s the same “trick” I use to keep this blog moving forwared, even though I am very busy with my regular work. Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

      Reply
      • Thanks a lot Niels. I’m starting today and have already found my accountability partner just like you said, and I have decided to go full in. Thank you so much for replying. It means a lot. Best of luck to you too. Hope you know you are doing a really good job with the blog and helping a lot of people. I’ll definitely let you know how it goes.

        Reply
  7. THANKS A LOT SIR FOR THIS ARTICLE I REALLY LIKE THIS AND I WANT TO FOLLOW IT FOR MY STUDIES…… SIR PLEASE REPLY ME BECOZ I NEED SOME MORE INFORMTION ABOUT THIS….. THNKS A LOT

    Reply
    • Hi Aadil. I would start out with just one hour a day. Find a quiet place where you can concentrate, e.g., the school library. Turn off your phone. Then, for an hour straight, focus on whatever it is you want to learn or accomplish. Over time, expand these “deep work” sessions. Go up to an hour and a half, then two hours. Keep it up, and you will be rewarded with great progress in your chosen subject. Also, if you build it up gradually, your friends and family will be more likely to respect your new practice. They will slowly come to see it as something you do.

      Reply
  8. Hi Niels,

    I love this article and your blog. I’m curious about the extreme minimalism and living on $1000 per month. Even if I cut everything out, my rent and parking is still $1800. Did you have roommates when you did your extreme minimalism to finish the book project?

    Reply
  9. This was a really great article. I pulled up a few more linked throughout and will be reading those. The biggest take away is for type a personalities we try to master many things. Instead in monk mode we should focus on just one thing. I have so many ideas I want to do but I often get overwhelmed and don’t start them because I cannot map it out. Now I know to pick the most important and tackle that one with all of my focus. My goal is to make money online from multiple streams. First I will dedicate my time to learning email copywriting then content creation and I eventually would like to start a blog because I have so many ideas and enjoy helping people. Once again great article.

    Reply
  10. I guess when you don’t have the discipline for moderation, you have to resort to extreme measures. This seems over-the-top to the degree of not actually being healthy; human beings are not robots.

    If this is your natural lifestyle, great. If it isn’t, trying to force this upon yourself probably isn’t going to do a whole lot. Your time would be better spent trying to understand your motivations than blindly adhering to a full-life regimen that is psychological equivalent to self flagellation for anyone with basic sensibilities.

    Reply
  11. Hi I am Dhritiraj. I really enjoyed your article, Now after 3 months I have a big important exam coming up however i am working 9 to 5. And I am addicted to bad habits too. I really want to get rid of it. So, can I start doing Monk Mode as explained by you ? Any suggestions from your side.. Thanks

    Reply

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