Illustration by Andy Smith

Goblin mode is out. Monk mode is in

2022 was the year of unapologetically base behaviour. In 2023 we have compensated—some of us a little too hard
December 6, 2023

As one year ends and another begins, I will be activating “monk mode”, meaning I’ll be unplugging from all devices and focusing on a single task: in this case, relaxation and recovery from a busy year. My mode will be less zen master and more the lazy friar put in charge of the cellar. 

Monk mode originally referred to focusing on a single task with unrivalled concentration for a short period of time. The term was popularised by Jim Collins, an American self-help and management guru, who used it to describe his disciplined approach to getting things done. As he explained to the FT in 2017, his road to success lay in adopting a strict regime similar to that found in monastic communities: “It is not uncommon for me to go through a cycle where [it’s] bed at 10 at night, sleep until maybe two, up, work two till breakfast, nap, then another chunk of time, followed by an afternoon workout, another nap, evening session before dinner, little bit of relaxation, work session before dinner, bed at 10, up at two, repeat.”

The recent vogue for monk mode is a reaction against the 2022 fad of “goblin mode”, a type of socially unacceptable behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent and slovenly—think embracing your inner slob, lying lazily on the sofa, doomscrolling, bingeing on Netflix and ice cream. Goblin mode thrived during lockdown and was great for big tech as it kept us chained to our devices. The term was chosen as word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2022.

It makes sense that our return to the office in 2023 had everyone swapping goblin mode for monk mode as we scrambled to rediscover self-discipline, adopting “productivity hacks” as social media calls them. A recent “monk mode challenge” on TikTok encouraged participants to go cold turkey on alcohol, online porn and sugary foods. You’ll notice however that turning off our devices has been cleverly dropped as a productivity hack—and that’s exactly how social media companies want it. They employ hundreds of behavioural scientists to capture our attention and trick us into spending more time on their platforms. 

Finding ways of keeping devices part of the monk-mode solution, rather than the problem, is now big business. In gaming, monk mode is a slower, often less violent, version of a game. Startups have developed apps such as Rescue Time, Cold Turkey, Forest and Freedom that offer a service for blocking distracting websites, tracking offline activity and providing groovy graphs of your device usage—so you can use your devices without guilt.

Personally, though, I’ll be rescuing my time by switching off my devices completely, eating leftover turkey, walking in the forest and feeling the freedom return to my being. Whether you’ll be channelling your inner monk or goblin these holidays, happy new year!