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Raptitude Experiment Log No. 33 — Monk Mode

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In this experiment, I will do a 10-day Monk Mode regimen, in order to shake up my meditation, exercise, and eating standards.

Each day, for ten days, I’m going to:

  • Meditate 50 minutes in the morning and have one other sitting of at least 10 minutes
  • Avoid all grains, added sugar, cheese, and potatoes*
  • Abstain from alcohol and other substances

I’m also going to:

  • Fast completely on two of the days
  • Do strength training six of eight the non-fasting days and run on the other two

Fasting means eating nothing at all that calendar day. The strength training regimen is a modest barbell program centered on squats and deadlifts. Both runs will be four miles.

This experiment begins first thing Thursday, August 11, 2022, and ends midnight Saturday August 20, 2022.

NOTE: For the first time, I’m going to do video updates on Instagram. Follow Raptitude to see how I do with this experiment. I will also post the occasional written entry here.

*I am making two scheduled exceptions to this restrictive diet, due to social arrangements revolving around food. Dinner Saturday and Sunday will include grains.

Fitness Routine Details

In order to prevent myself from shortening or compromising my scheduled runs and workouts, I’m going to post them all here. It is important that I do all eight workouts over the ten days. (I will fast on two of the days.)

Thursday the 11th — I will be out of town, away from the gym this day, so I’ll only be doing Bulgarian split squats — 50 reps total (each leg).

Friday the 12th — Deadlift day.

Saturday the 13th — Run 4 miles.

Sunday the 14th — Squat day.

Monday the 15th — Rest day. Fasting all day.

Tuesday the 16th — Deadlift day.

Wednesday the 17th — Squat day.

Thursday the 18th — Run 4 miles. Fast all day.

Friday the 19th — Climbing.

Saturday the 20th — Deadlift day.

The Log

Day One – 11 Aug 2022

As I reported on Instagram, Day One went well. I spent the day visiting with a few friends in a country home. This meant my workout had to be something I could do away from the gym, so I did Bulgarian split squats — an incredibly strenuous leg exercise. I did fifty of them in four sets, which took a lot out of me but felt good.

Meditation went smoothly. My standard for this experiment is fifty minutes in the morning and a second sit of at least ten minutes sometime later. I used to sit this long every day, but not for a few years. (I’ve been sitting only 20-30 minutes most days.) I was pleased to find that there was no struggle about sitting for 50 minutes, and I already feel the difference in terms of the equanimity and mental quiet I feel throughout the day.

The third area of focus for this experiment (the first two being exercise and meditation) is food, and that was the most challenging. I’m not eating grain/flour, sugar, alcohol, cheese, which isn’t difficult to stick to while at home, but today I was a guest, and so I had to scrounge for something I could eat. This was a bit of a pain, but it also meant I did not partake in any of the abundant snacks floating around between meals, including birthday cake, chips, and a one-pound chocolate bar. My friends ate them and I drank water. This always comes with a pang of envy — part of me wished I had started the experiment a day later.

However, after my friends had had enough and mutually decided to put the chocolate bar away, indicating some of the remorse or discomfort that tends to come with snacks, I didn’t have to feel any of that and by that point felt that I had missed nothing. Particularly after the cake had come and gone, I noticed that the two minutes of envy I felt upon its first appearance was a small price to pay to avoid the remorse, indigestion, and “oh no it’s all gone” feeling that often accompanies dessert.

The other thing I noticed was that the cake disappeared very quickly. Two minutes after it was served, it had been reduced to empty plates of crumbs, and now none of us had cake, except that I avoided the empty calories, the sugar crash, and the letdown of it being gone so quick. Comparing these two choices is a no-brainer — it is simply better not to have it most of the time. Less displeasure by far.

Day Two – 12 Aug 2022

I was home for Day Two. Meditation again when smoothly, although I waited till bedtime to do my second sit, and I was wobbly and falling asleep, which made it much more challenging that the much-longer morning session. I’ll try to avoid that.

Eating was easy, because I was home. I made keto meatballs and they were a little too delicious. I had eight of them throughout the day. I did notice a few temptations float through — for ice cream, whiskey, even a Coke Zero. Interestingly, it was much easier to dismiss these thoughts than usual, because I have a clear behavioral standard. Normally, I can always reason that this moment should be one in which I say yes to these things, because I know I’m going to have them sometime. With the ten-day Monk Mode thing, I am completely free of having to evaluate and negotiate these impulses. The time to indulge is sometime after the ten days is up — certainly not now. And what a relief, not having to go through the song and dance of figuring out whether this is a justifiable time to indulge.

I kind of doubled down on the exercise today. It was deadlift day at the gym, but then later on I went to the indoor climbing gym for a while. By the end of the day I was pleasantly wiped. Once again, having clear standards simplified things. I thought about skipping the back exercises because I had already decided to go climbing, which is demanding on the back muscles. Instead, I put on my stoic monk face and did the deadlifts anyway AND went climbing anyway. That was the sensible thing to do and freed me from having to think about it much and from the resulting “compromise regret” I now realize is a big part of my life. Clear standards make you push a little higher to reach the bar, but frees you of other burdens.

Day Three – 13 Aug 2022

Today was one of the days with a social obligation that involved food. I had a group over for a marathon D&D session, and we always order food. I’d considered making a “special meal” for myself while everyone else ate takeout, but after thinking about that, I decided it was better to just get takeout too. The toughest part of dietary restriction is the difficulty it creates in eating with others. As a rule, I would like to eat relatively indulgently when I’m with others, and keep it modest and healthy at other times.

I decided all that ahead of time. What I didn’t decide was where to draw the boundary. I ate a takeout meal (fried chicken strips and curly fries), but I was also offered two ice cream bars and an Irish whiskey, and had them both. This seems fine, but the point is that living by self-determined rules is tricky because they’re often not specific enough to cover all contingencies. You need overarching principles, and I guess one of them, for me, is “indulge with others, avoid indulging alone.”

The next day I felt a little less good, which is understandable. Sugar and alcohol do affect how I feel the next morning, even if it’s not a lot.

I’ve also run into another problem that’s been brewing for a long time: what to do about running. Currently I’m quite active — lifting at the barbell gym four times a week, climbing twice a week, and running. But running is my least favorite and I don’t particularly want to do it right now. It’s hot and humid here and I find running quite miserable in that weather, so it always gets third preference when I’m deciding what sort of exercise to do on a given week/day. Basically, I need to sit down and determine what I’m willing to commit to for exercise. I’ve run like twice in the last month. Doing all three with any seriousness is tough, so I need to decide what’s worth it.

Day Four – 14 Aug 2022

Sunday — a day with another pre-planned exception to my diet, this one simpler. Pizza with a friend. Felt fine, slept well, maybe because there was no sugar or alcohol.

Aside from that, it was just another day. I’m feeling physically and mentally good, and really getting used to it. I attribute this mostly to the slow-carb diet and the essentially doubled meditation time, but it’s not clear what’s doing what exactly. The body feels better, which makes meditation more fruitful, because I don’t have to contend with as much ambient bodily discomfort. Since meditation is better, life in general feels more satisfying and I’m experiencing fewer cravings for indulgence and stimulation. Because both of these things are better, I am sleeping a little better, which makes both easier, and so on. One of the great advantages (and difficulties) of the human system is this snowball effect. It seems incredibly important to always be on the positive side of the feeling-good/doing-good feedback loop. It seems obvious now that this particular diet and at least this amount of meditation can do most of the work.

It occurred to me yesterday that I’m not doing anything in this experiment I don’t normally do — I restrict fast carbs a bit, I exercise regularly, and I meditate daily. But increasing the standard seems to be shifting me into a higher threshold of well-being.

Day Five – 15 Aug 2022

Today was the first day that involved fasting. I’ve been eating a “slow carb” diet, but today the diet was nothing.

I loved it. I felt light and energetic all day. No weakness, and no real hunger, just a few pangs at regular mealtimes. I am now convinced that most of what the Western world regards as “hunger” is just the psychological effects of not eating at your accustomed mealtimes, and has nothing to do with the body’s needs.

I went climbing instead of eating dinner, and this felt great. I had more in the gas tank, not just physically but mentally. I was more driven to conquer certain routes, and did get one of them.

The only downside I experience with these 36-hour fasts, and I’ve done maybe seven or eight of them so far, is that I don’t sleep well. If I were to have a nice dinner each day, and fast the rest of the day, I think I could gain all the benefits of a day of fasting — not just how I feel but the massive increase of free time — while avoiding the only identifiable downside.

Day 10 / Conclusions

Well that went quick. I loved the ten-day experiment as opposed to the usual 30-day ones. I was able to adhere to my intention the whole time without second-guessing myself. Usually, around day 12, I’ve learned quite a bit and I already know how I want to live when I’m done with the experiment, but there’s another 18 days of going through the motions of a plan I no longer think is quite right.

Basically, I felt great the whole time. I was only doing what I normally do, but to a greater degree: more meditation, more exercise, and less sugar, flour and other foods that make me feel bad. Bumping these three areas up to a new standard make for a much better “normal” as far as how I felt throughout the day. I lost a few pounds, and I’m a lot less bloated and tired.

As I mentioned above, I did have a few preplanned exceptions to my rules, and they worked perfectly. After the experiment would like to eat mostly the slow-carb sort of diet, with 1 or 2 days out of every ten or so when I make an exception to have a drink or a dessert. I think that is sustainable, in a way that never having those things would not be.

On Instagram: I also experimented with doing video updates on Instagram. I’ve really enjoyed posting on a dedicated Raptitude Instagram account and will continue. I’m not sure if these video monologues are what I want to do though. They’re too long for the Instagram platform, so I’d rather just write updates here and post links to them. There’s a lot I can do with Raptitude and Instagram, but video monologues aren’t going to be a regular feature. It was definitely good for me to broadcast my face and voice though, because I’ve been so reticent about that and it became a thousand times easier over the last ten days. It was great to start engaging with readers somewhere other than in the comment section of Raptitude.

So the experiment was a great one and I think will improve my life in a lasting way. I’m going to do more Monk Modes, adhering to different rules or precepts, when I want to try out a potentially better way of doing a thing. Maybe I want to do a Monk Mode in which I put everything in its place before bed for seven days, or in which I run every day, or call a friend every day. The basic principle works well — make some stricter behavioral commitments for a short enough time that you will actually do it. The key is the short period of time, because it really was pretty easy (though not trivially easy) to step up and explore this slightly-harder-but-much-more-rewarding behavioral standard.

The day after it ended (today) I had a blizzard at Dairy Queen — for research purposes of course. I didn’t enjoy it that much and the medium size was way too big, and I felt bad after in a familiar way that I haven’t felt for at least ten days. I am really excited to have a healthy dinner with piles of vegetables, and no sugar or refined carbs. My normal equilibrium does seem to have shifted in a healthy way. I know from the past that it can always shift back if I’m not sufficiently vigilant, but now I have a relatively easy and quick way of getting back there.



Amy Walker August 11, 2022 at 4:11 am

I love this.
I am going to write every day for 2 weeks except for the days when I have no-negotiable appointments in order to kick start the research for the book I have been planning the past few weeks.
I am not going to drink or smoke for the next 2 weeks.
I am going to get back into a 2-times a day eating pattern.
I am going to meditate and jog/walk every morning before it gets too hot
I am going to get up and go to bed at the same time each day.
Starting tomorrow!

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David Cain August 12, 2022 at 1:37 pm

Sounds ambitious but doable! How’s Day One so far?

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Jacqui August 11, 2022 at 5:53 am

Monk Mode – I love this too!

I’ve been wanting to shift things but really not knowing how to approach it.

I like the 10day idea and feel like this is very doable.

Now I’ll just have to spend some time thinking through my priorities and intentions for the next 10 days.

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David Cain August 12, 2022 at 1:39 pm

Why not pick one small thing and a very short duration (3-5 days) to get you in the mode. It’s the kind of thing that’s easy to think about too much and never do :)

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Prem August 11, 2022 at 9:12 am

Loved this idea, I think this makes us to start challenges that are doable, I will start with one day total break from my phone. Nowadays, my a lot of time goes into social media and browsing through phones, so I think these small monk mode days will help me realize how much time I will have left if I don’t do certain activity and involve good habits.

First monk mode will be not using my phone totally! will plan others after seeing how this goes.

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David Cain August 12, 2022 at 1:40 pm

A single day sounds like a good duration for something relatively drastic. Let us know how it goes.

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Christina August 11, 2022 at 9:42 am

This is a timely post as I just told my clients I’m taking September off. Part of that will involve some much needed post-covid travel but my main focus will be predominantly on making art in preparation for a couple of events coming up in the fall. And I’ll add in some of the daily to dos that I often struggle to accomplish. My list will look something like this:
• daily 20-minute meditation
• daily 20-minute stretch/mat work
• go to the studio 4–5 days out of each week for at least 3 hours each day (when not travelling)

I’ll design a sheet with boxes I can tick off which will allow me to SEE my accomplishments. This is totally doable. Thanks for lighting the fire with this great and timely post, David!

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David Cain August 12, 2022 at 1:41 pm

A clear sheet with tick boxes sounds like a good idea. The goals have to be well-defined or you don’t get that sense of satisfaction from knowing you absolutely did it. Good luck!

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Mike Bell September 6, 2022 at 4:41 pm

I really like the principle of “indulge with others, avoid indulging alone.” I’m very much enjoy the diet and routine that I have for myself, and have always struggled with the difficulty my choices make for others. I also feel that the pleasure of friendship and community is being exposed to different ways of being; I don’t want to hang out with everyone who eats and acts like me. I think this standard will help me get out of my at home actions more without the associated guilt. Thanks!

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