Here’s a simple test to determine whether Monk Mode is helping or harming your life: Was the choice to enter Monk Mode easy, or painful? If it’s painful, you’re on the right track. If it’s easy, you’re probably making excuses to avoid working on your flaws.
What Is Monk Mode?
Monk Mode is a euphemism for an extended period of isolation and asceticism, undertaken with the goal of rapid and transformative self-improvement. A man in Monk Mode has a simple and productive daily routine dedicated to getting healthy, making money, and reading challenging books.
As you can tell from those links, the Thumotic ethos is very much in line with these goals.
But here’s the problem with Monk Mode: it gives introverted men a virtuous-sounding rationale for their self-imposed isolation. If you’re an introvert with social anxiety, Monk Mode is more than easy – it’s comforting. It’s an opportunity to continue doing exactly what you’ve always done (i.e, stay at home) while pretending to make progress. You’re writing your personal Hero’s Journey Narrative, but skipping the part where you actually subject yourself to trials and ordeals.
Even more importantly: social isolation will deprive you of the most important asset a man can have for a successful and good life: a worthy tribe.
The Importance Of Building Your Tribe
Most actual monks don’t live in solitude. They live alongside other monks with similar goals and habits. Purging your life of distractions and frivolity is virtuous, but not all social relations fall under the category of ‘distraction.’ If you associate friendship with wasted time, you simply need to do a better job of building and managing friendships.
Better men than us have wrestled with the question Monk Mode, and how to strike a balance between an active social life and isolated self-reliance:
Ancient philosophy – especially after Aristotle – largely focused on how to achieve self-sufficiency on the one hand, and peace of mind on the other; it thus became fundamentally therapeutic, in nature and goal. Though ancient philosophers are generally known for their praise of friendship, there is an evident tension involved in these positions: the possession of friends seems almost unhelpful, nearly inimical, to self-sufficiency and peace of mind. As fulfilling as friendships generally are, they often lead to mutual dependency and a loss of the tranquility thought to accompany solitude.
So how do we resolve this tension? Only a fool would suggest that all friendships are worthwhile, or that none are, so our challenge is learning to recognize and pursue virtuous friendship, while avoiding the rest. So how do we tell good friends from bad?
In the Nicomachean Ethics (get it on Amazon, or free online), Aristotle describes three categories of friendship:
- Friendships driven by pleasure
- Friendships driven by usefulness
- Friendships driven by recognition of goodness in the other
Examples of pleasure-based friendship activities could be: children playing together; teenagers getting high and playing video games; college students getting drunk and going to the same parties over and over again; work colleagues complaining about their boss; a man and a woman casually sleeping together regularly.
Aristotle describes utility-based relationships as shallow and short-lived: business associates, work colleagues, other short-term friendships of commercial necessity.
The highest level of friendship, according to Aristotle, are those based on the mutual admiration, and recognition of virtue or ‘goodness’ in the other. Such friendships are rare, difficult to form, and among the greatest gifts available to us in life:
Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good–and goodness is an enduring thing.
And each is good without qualification and to his friend, for the good are both good without qualification and useful to each other. So too they are pleasant; for the good are pleasant both without qualification and to each other, since to each his own activities and others like them are pleasurable, and the actions of the good are the same or like.
And such a friendship is as might be expected permanent, since there meet in it all the qualities that friends should have. For all friendship is for the sake of good or of pleasure–good or pleasure either in the abstract or such as will be enjoyed by him who has the friendly feeling–and is based on a certain resemblance; and to a friendship of good men all the qualities we have named belong in virtue of the nature of the friends themselves; for in the case of this kind of friendship the other qualities also are alike in both friends, and that which is good without qualification is also without qualification pleasant, and these are the most lovable qualities. Love and friendship therefore are found most and in their best form between such men.
But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare. Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have ‘eaten salt together’; nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each. Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.
There are no hard rules to separating the wheat from the chaff in your social circle. As I reflect on my twenties and the paths taken by the people I’ve known, my gut has been right almost every time. The strong got stronger; the weak remained weak. Consider your friends and acquaintances: who elevates you? Who makes you a better version of yourself? Whose goals and outlook align with yours?
Who Can Actually Benefit From Monk Mode?
The best candidates for Monk Mode are the naturally social and gregarious, for whom social exploration comes easily. If you’re caught up in a fun social routine of partying, meeting girls, and hanging out with friends, giving up part of your social life to focus on self-improvement will require sacrifice. You’ll be turning down invitations to events you want to attend and avoiding people you truly like. It will be painful, and pain implies growth.
How To Build A Network Of Virtuous Friends
Socializing can be productive and uplifting, but only if you consciously work to build a social life that elevates you. Here are a few suggestions for building a virtuous social circle:
- Schedule a weekly one-on-one breakfast with a like-minded friend to review your goals and actions for the week
- Get a training partner
- Start playing a team sport
- Reach out to someone you admire and invite them for coffee
These activities won’t eat into your time. You’ll maintain your social skills, and nurture friendships that will grow and stay with you throughout your life. You’ll me more likely to succeed at whatever you’re trying to accomplish, since you’ll have smart people around to give you reality checks and keep you accountable.
The Bottom Line
The right path is neither the Charybdis of self-exile nor the Scylla of complete surrender to mindless extroversion. Don’t use Monk Mode as an excuse to avoid building your tribe and fixing your social skills. On the other hand, don’t use this post as an excuse to get drunk every weekend with the same stagnant people.
Instead, find a balance. Moderate the time you devote to social interaction; be selective about how and with whom you spend that time; most importantly, focus on being a good friend, so that you can earn the respect and loyalty of other high-quality people. This is the path to a masculine and virtuous approach to friendship and life.