Bored office peopleIt’s a fact of life; there are times when we feel uninspired by what we do, and just plough through it in the hope of getting it done as quickly as possible so we can move on to something a bit more interesting. The unread emails in our inbox, the report our boss is waiting for or the discussion we promised we’d have with a colleague. At those moments when we are faced with having to tackle a tedious task, we often find ourselves in a state of mind characterised by restlessness and a lack of energy, as though we’ve been disconnected from the mains and all our enthusiasm has drained away.

Most of us would say that these unpleasant experiences are an inevitable part of working life, and that some work activities are inherently boring and tedious by their very nature. If we accept this point of view, there is nothing we can do and the only solution is to grit our teeth and get on with it.

I would like to propose an alternative way of approaching those less inspiring parts of our working lives. The question I would like to ask is: ‘Are some activities actually inherently boring or is it more about the way we view them?’

How the Mind Creates Boredom

Boredom at workNext time you feel bored at work, try and observe what your mind is doing – it could be very interesting. It is likely that you will discover some very fascinating things about the process of becoming bored. First of all, you might realise that prior to feeling disconnected and frustrated, your mind was busy making a judgement about your experience and had already labelled it as ‘boring’. We have a hard-wired mechanism in our mind which decides whether something is pleasant or unpleasant, and although this internal judging process lasts only for a split second, it has the power to determine how we feel about our experiences. This automatic switch is a useful mechanism designed to ensure our survival – it makes us move away from anything unpleasant or undesirable and move towards things we consider to be pleasant or desirable.

If we feel cold, for example, we will automatically want to alter our experience – we will put on something warm. The same goes for hunger, loneliness and, in fact, all our basic human needs. But when this mechanism gets activated when we are faced with tasks at work, the mind decides that the experience is ‘unpleasant’, which triggers a whole set of mental, physical and emotional reactions. These reactions ultimately lead to frustration, agitation and unease.

Aversion – The Silent Killer of Enjoyment

Aversion mindfulness workplaceThis automatic reaction of moving away from things we think will unpleasant is based on a mode of mind called ‘aversion’. When we are in a state of aversion, we tense up, react to our experience by fighting it or pushing it away, and our attention often moves to thinking about what is ‘wrong’ with our situation and how to change it. In the hope of alleviating our increasing discomfort, we often fantasise about doing something else or being somewhere else. Our body and mind become split as we distract ourselves from what is actually happening in an effort to try and escape it. The bulk of our energy is consumed in a futile battle with our experience, and we end up feeling tired and unsettled.

The most important question to ask now is this: Do we have a choice about how we react to things, or are we locked into feeling aversion, discomfort, and being bored out of our minds?

Using Mindfulness to Dissolve Aversion

Mindfulness overcoming boredom at workMy experience has taught me that we can train our minds (and our brains) to intentionally switching from the aversion mode to an ‘approach’ mode. We can enhance our ability to be curious and open to whatever is happening, without judging it as unpleasant, unbearable or boring. Through practising mindfulness we learn that we can exist without a constant supply of entertaining thoughts or images, and discover that boredom is simply the mind’s way of avoiding stillness and spaciousness.

As we repeatedly apply this method of deliberately cultivating interest in our experience, our relationship to those tasks that make up our working life changes radically, and we realise that all activities have the potential to nurture us, centre us, or, at the very least, not cause us frustration and fragmentation.

5 Ways of Overcoming Boredom at Work

1. Whatever you are doing, tune into your senses. Direct your attention to what you see, hear, and feel. There is a tremendous richness in the sense perceptions, and if you pay attention, you will find a stream of interesting and ever-changing phenomena that are inexhaustible in their nature.

2. When you notice your mind entering the aversion mode with thoughts arising such as ‘I don’t like this, this is boring’, gently return your attention to your senses. It is a new skill and it takes practice, so be patient with yourself.

3. Intentionally work on cultivating a ‘beginner’s mind’ by approaching all activities as if you have never done them before and closely observing all the details of your experience.

4. Explore the feeling of boredom itself – how does it manifest in your body? Can you discover any tensing or bracing in your shoulders or chest? Where exactly can you feel these sensations? By examining the physical manifestation of boredom in this way, you will come to realise that boredom is nothing more than a concept stemming from our resistance to be fully present to what is happening in the moment.

5. Congratulate yourself whenever you engage in this way of working with boredom. You are profoundly changing the way you relate to unpleasant experiences and strengthening your ability to be present. The more you appreciate your efforts, the more you will be inclined to come back to the practice in the future.

How do you approach boring tasks at work? Please post your tips below.