I tried the Monk Mode challenge, and it broke my life

I tried the Monk Mode challenge, and it broke my life

I tried to spend a week eating healthily, meditating, reading and running 5k every day, all while ditching television completely, giving up social media and not touching alcohol.

I failed, but that didn’t stop it changing my life.

Health trends are 10 a penny on TikTok, from the genuinely dangerous 30-Day Gallon of Water a Day trend to the brutal 75 Hard Challenge and the ever-popular 12-3-20 – and men are more likely to be influenced into giving extreme ones a go more than women according to a recent study.

I, clearly am one of those gullible men.

I wanted to throw myself headfirst into a new challenge. I've tried and failed any number of them (over lockdown I stuck to the 100 push-up challenge for a little while) but after hitting a bit of a slump at the start of the year, I wanted something that would jolt me out of it.

I was exercising pretty regularly, but spending too long stuck in YouTube wormholes and not reading as much as I’d like.

That’s where “monk mode” came in.

Going monk mode was far harder than I ever thought iStock

It’s a pretty far-reaching term you might see banded across the internet from time to time, and it can encompass any number of different elements.

There are some challenges you may see listed elsewhere (including giving up caffeine, which considering I was only doing it for a week and had absolutely no intention of giving up coffee in the long run didn't make much sense), but in essence, monk mode involves dramatically cutting down screen time by placing a ban on social media and TV.

And it proved to be tough – tougher than I ever imagined it would be.

The exercise part was by far the easiest bit. I’m a regular runner anyway, and all it took was upping the levels from three 5k runs a week to every day.

It was a bit of a blessing that I went into monk mode after a relatively heavy weekend, which had involved plenty of Guinness during a trip to Twickenham, so the no drinking wasn’t much of a problem either.

The challenge taught me a lot about my habit for procrastinating, though. I don’t think of myself as a social media addict, but I found my thumb unthinkingly heading for the Instagram app – out of boredom more than anything else – and I kept having to stop myself.

I changed the app layout on my phone (I think this was one day two, and the fact I spent about 20 minutes doing this probably shows just how much I was lacking in stimulation by that point) and that really helped. Once you have to find an app tucked away in a separate folder, it stops being such an instinctive thing to open social media.

Television has a bigger grip on my life than I'd realisediStock

I'm slightly ashamed to say it, but I could not believe how hard the lack of television hit me. I didn’t realise how much I anchor my entire week around it. Monday felt very strange without University Challenge, and I was desperate to waste some time on YouTube after an alarmingly short space of time.

It was also quickly apparent just how antisocial it can be to cut TV out of your life completely. When it came to eating dinner, me and my partner ate in separate rooms for what might be the first time ever – and I was up in bed incredibly early just so she could watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and I could read.

It was a positive experience to get back into reading, and I got through a copy of Madame Bovary much more quickly than I normally would have done. But as the days went on, all I wanted to do was chuck myself down in front of the TV; when you begin to dread finishing work, seeing another stimulation-free evening stretching out ahead of you, you know things aren't going well.

While I tried to stay productive, getting my way through a novel I’ve wanted to read for a long time, time itself seemed to slow down and I couldn’t wait for the week to be over. The fact I couldn’t have a drink also made the idea of a drink very appealing to me, and my whisky cabinet was eyeing me up from across the room by Tuesday evening.

There was one element to all of this I will take away with me, though, which is meditation.

I truly believe after trying this that every person should try meditation, even if it ultimately ends up not being for them. It's as simple as finding 10 minutes to be present with yourself - that's all it takes to get started.

Meditation has been a game changeriStock

I'm the opposite of spiritual. I find astrology as irrational as it is irritating. But starting meditation - along with running regularly again over the past 12 months or so - is the best thing I've done for myself.

It used to feel like meditating was all a bit new age and something other people did, but it's something I only wish I'd tried sooner. I downloaded the Headspace app for the week and I imagine I’ll be using it for a long time.

It wasn't long, though, before the reality of monk mode proved too much.

On the fourth evening, three days short of my target, I got back from my run and cracked. I stuck the telly on, poured myself a drink and reflected on the (embarrassingly?) short time I’d endured under these new conditions.

In all, my monk mode experience had been a bizarre blend of life-changing inspiration and all-encompassing boredom: I don’t imagine I’ll ever feel such a strange mix again.

There are definitely things I will take away from this – one being that watching television is an essential human right, not to be taken for granted – and that would genuinely my one bit of advice for anyone thinking of giving this a go: definitely do all the exercising, cut down on Instagram and try meditation, but for goodness sake watch a bit of telly after you’re done.

Life’s too short to be that productive all the time, after all.

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