5 ways to motivate yourself to study a boring subject and/or complete a project

Update (January 2018): I have since written a number of other articles on strategies to help motivate yourself to study boring subjects. Check out this article on 10 ways to boost your motivation.

How do I motivate myself to study? is one question I am constantly asked by students.

Having just completed my honours thesis (which turned out to be the hardest, most stressful and rewarding project I have ever done) I am happy to say that there are many ways to motivate yourself, but it may involve some pain, frustration and overcoming mental barriers to begin with (at least this was the case for me!).

Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy solutions to have you feeling totally inspired and energised about studying a subject or completing a project that may not be all that inspiring or interesting.

Here are some strategies you can apply to motivate yourself to get started with the work you need to do.

1. Make every thought serve you and move you forward

During the initial phase of my honours project I spent a lot of time in my head but it wasn’t time well spent. I would worry constantly about whether I’d be able to pull this project off, whether I’d get the response rate I needed, how I’d start writing it, etc.

In hindsight, this was a complete waste of my time and energy. It was only towards the end of my project that I tightened up my thinking. I heard Dr Sharon Melnick state that we have 60,000 conscious thoughts a day. Now for those of you who just thought What’s a conscious thought? that’s exactly what a conscious thought is. It’s a thought you’re aware of. Dr Sharon Melnick states that each of these thoughts are going to either be bringing you closer towards achieving your goals or further away from your goals.

After hearing this I decided to carefully watch what I was telling myself. I replaced negative thoughts, such as I can’t do this and My writing sucks!, with positive thought, such as I’m making progress and I’m doing the best I can and my writing will evolve and get better. This is a work in progress!

2. Visualise yourself taking action

Studies have found that visualisation makes a difference to professional athletes’ performance. so why don’t students practice doing it, too?

Visualise yourself taking the actions that need to be taken (e.g. see yourself typing up your work on your laptop, organising your files and being able to access the articles/materials you need with ease).

This simple strategy helps you to stay focus on what needs to be done. As Jesse Jackson said:

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it”.

3. Small actions add up

My mum recently said to me:

“Every action is a cause which has an effect! If you put in the action, you’ll get the results!”

What great advice. Thanks mum!

Often we can get bogged down and feel overwhelmed/stressed by the enormity of the things we need to do (e.g. writing an 11,000 word thesis). I had to regularly remind myself that even if I wrote only one sentence each day, eventually all those sentences were going to add up to something really solid (my 11,000 word thesis).

But I was really committed to finishing my thesis on time and doing a good job. So in February I set myself a goal to write 500 words a day. This meant that if I stuck to my goal then my draft thesis would be written in 22 days. I said to myself:

It doesn’t matter how bad my writing is, just type up those 500 words!

This was an extremely empowering activity as it forced me to be in action. Every day.

Worry disappears in the face of action. So next time you start worrying about an assignment or exams, force yourself to do something (anything!), however small it might be.

4. Remind yourself that this won’t go on forever

I see a lot of students that are really overwhelmed and want to throw in the towel at this point in the year in regards to their studies. If you’re a student, remind yourself that this won’t go on forever, that everything changes and all you need to do is just keep taking action.

5. Get some supportive comrades and spend time with them

There’s something really comforting and energising about spending time with others who are going through or have gone through the same painful experience as you.

I found that it made a huge difference to be able to talk to other students who were doing their honours projects or had completed an honours project in previous years. A lot of these people gave me motivating pieces of advice such as You’re going to feel so good once you finish this project! We know it’s tough but just stick at it! as well as practical advice/tips (e.g. Make sure you don’t leave your referencing until the last minute!)

One of my lecturers suggested getting together with other honours students and having regular writing sessions each week (where you would all sit around at a table and write for an hour or so). While I never did this for my honours project, I have done this in previous years with friends when preparing for really difficult exams. Getting together with others can turn boring, stressful tasks into a fun, playful ones.

Update: Shortly after writing this post, I quickly forgot how painful writing my honours thesis was and I decided to do a PhD. That was even more challenging than honours but I got there in the end! I ended up joining a writer’s group to help me push through the pain barrier and get words down on paper. It made all the difference. You can read more about this here.

At my PhD graduation ceremony. I finished the beast! Phew!

To sum up

Now it’s over to! What strategy will you test out to help you complete that boring project?
I recommend you start by picking just one strategy (only one!). Test it out and let me know how you go!

118 thoughts on “5 ways to motivate yourself to study a boring subject and/or complete a project

    1. This is the sort of advice I wanted to hear!!!i too am doing my honours project and its killing me! the biggest problem I am having is not starting and trying to do any other college work to avoid doing it… but at the end of the day my honours project is worth more in grades than my exams! thanks so much for this advice it really has helped and im going to start doing the 500 word idea that you mentioned x

      1. This is fantastic advice. I am currently writing a 25000 word thesis while working a full time job. I find I spend more time thinking, worrying and talking about it than I do actually writing it. I am going to try write 500 words a night and also meet up with my friends on the course soon. I am going to try have a positive outlook and keep working not worrying. Roll on July!!!

        1. Hey Viv

          I’m glad to hear you are breaking down that hefty thesis! That’s the way to do it πŸ™‚

          I like what you said “keep working, not worrying”. I think I will make that my new mantra as I embark on finishing up my thesis too!

          All the best!

          Jane Genovese

      2. I will do that too, I never thought about making a daily target, instead I walk with all this stress thinking that I have to write 40 pages..

        After having a look at it, I found that if write 2 pages each day I will be done in 20 days..

        THANK YOU

    2. Love this little article so beautifully written ! i was so desperate for some motivation i literally Googled ‘how to motivate yourself to study’. Reading this actually made me gain some of the confidence i lost in my self and made me smile. Everything mentioned is practical and easy to follow. I am doing my dissertation and my main topic is based on motivation ironically. Its mid year and thats probably why i have been feeling so demotivated to study. But just the boost i needed .Thanks! πŸ˜€

      1. Thats exactly what i googled! Glad i found this article
        I really liked the quote ‘worry disappears in the face of action’! Thank you to the author

        1. Yes, it does work for science/math courses! The key is to just get started. If you don’t know where to start or what to do, get help. Or, start with something you do know how to do and that will at least start you working. Then you can better isolate the math/science concepts you don’t know. Somewhere, someone understands the material you’re lost on, find that person, or start somewhere such as the text. The book has the answers. Try reading the information you don’t understand. Still lost? Try writing out the math questions you don’t understand and all the given information; see if that gives you more understanding. No? Then get help from a professor or grad student. Show them exactly what you’ve done and where you’re stuck. Before you find help, do what you can then move on. Professors go through many chapters in a week. You have to move along too, so don’t use too much time working on concepts you’re stuck on. Just get started, do what you can (using the ideas given above), then get outside help with math/science problems you’re stuck on. Use flash cards, written notes, or tape record lectures and listen to them. Take action and you’ll get there!

  1. I’m seriously looking for a way to motivate myself to study just a moment ago. I found myself stuck halfway through my Geography notes with my mind completely blank. Thanks for the tips! It helps a lot!

    1. Hi Jeanne, you seem to be a MJ fan. Well, whenever you find yourself stuck in a situation, just think, what would MJ want you to do if he would be looking down at you from his heavenly abode. Would he be wanting you to leave the job half-way, or to have confidence in yourself and determination to make sacrifices so as to complete your work. This might motivate you.

    2. I feel so boring and i cant keep studying for a long time , i always make some excuses for me to do some otherthings… what should i do ~~thx!!!

  2. thank you a lot my teacher want a paragraph about how to get your self motivated.

    and you help me.

  3. I think the biggest problem is faced by every student is the lack of motivation but these tips help to overcome this problem so students must keep abreast from these five tip .

  4. Teachers always say just read the book you’ll be fine. The problem is even I read the book, but I cannot remember the whole thing.

    I took a history class two times and I failed twice even I studied overnight.

    I don’t know what to do anymore. =(

  5. Hi Oku

    I used to have this problem too – I would read the book but would struggle to be able to fully understand and retrieve the information in a test/exam situation.

    You need to acquire a deep understanding (not just a knowledge of random facts) when you study. Have you tried mind mapping before?


    This technique really helped me to understand my subjects more deeply.

    You also need to pratice retrieving info (learning it is one thing, but getting it out of your brain takes practice!)

    Hang in there. Just start to experiment with different techniques and strategies. Things can only get better from here!


  6. What motivates me, is an advice given by one good friend, “Study is boring, so does washing dishes at the restaurant”

  7. I have just completed reading this magical instruction. Now I can feel myself that my assignment stress is going away, far and far………….I can do whatever I want, because I believe myself.

  8. Thxxxx for this advice. Now when i’m studying my lame social studies home work i Will remember these Steps. AND again THANK YOU!! keep on doing the good work

  9. Thanks, I need a bit of motivation these days. My mental mind is really losing it. I used to have it but it’s simply slipping away.

  10. Sigh… Its really hard for me to get motiviated.. b/c all the “real” jobs are boring… and all the fun paying jobs are not enough.

  11. I want something more to get motivated.
    This is not practically acceptable to me.

    Bt thnx for ur advice.

    1. I wrote that blog post a long time ago. Since then my view on motivation has changed a lot.

      I think the problem is that many of us are waiting for the right moment (when we feel inspired or ready) to start work. But the reality is we may never feel inspired to do the work that needs to be done.

      I tend to live by this philosophy now: action > motivation.

      If you just start doing something small (e.g. writing one sentence, getting the book out of your bag), even if you’re really not in the mood, after awhile you’ll start to see results. That in turn will lead to you feeling motivated and lead to more action.

      Try it and see πŸ™‚

  12. I think your latest post, Jane, makes a lot more sence and is most probably the best advice there is in motivating yourself for anything. Thanx.

  13. now i am doing competetive exam preparation, so i read your 5 ways than i am really total motivate, just like charge. Thank you very much.

  14. Hi! I am really struggling with my biological exam. It is 9 o’clock in the night and I still haven’t started. There is SOO much to study that I don’t know where to start! Please help me.:(

  15. Thanks,

    a beautiful motivation for of the boring study. My study should turn beautiful n interesting n valuable now.

  16. Hi Jane

    I am studying to pass my NCLEX-RN. This is my fourth time taking this exam, and what I hope to be my last. This cloud of tiredness and sleepiness takes over about 30min after starting to study which cuts my study time from 3hrs to max. 1.5hrs, however, i could go on fb and spend three hours.

    I am going to use your suggestions and make it work as it is good.


  17. Well, I’ve tried all of these but I just can’t motivate myself to study !!! Can’t understand what to do !!!

  18. This was very good ,, I like you and I like ur techniques, thanks a lot, I am inspired

  19. i love what you said about worrying.. i’m really doing bad in my studies cause i worry a lot and not doing anything about it. thanks for the heads up.. =) God bless

  20. Economics is a really boring subject.
    One thing i really resent is the fact that marks in an exam either make u or break u.

  21. good! this will go a long way in helping those who are always in the well of procrastinating important matters. cheers, Jane! expecting more such wonderful tips frm u.

  22. awesome, its really awesome. Everyone should read this to motivate themselves for study………………………

    1. An honours project is a research project you can do at the end of your undergraduate degree. You need to write a thesis (10,000 – 15,000 words). It’s a steep learning curve, but well worth doing!


  23. well these 5 tips are quite motivating n i feel really good after reading then. thanks 4 dis i really needed a motivation. the best line in ur article is β€œIf my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it”.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me/us. It really helped and from tomorrow on I will try all of those tactics and I really hope that everything will work out! Thank youu πŸ™‚

    btw… do you maybe happen to have any good advice about exams or tests and how you should study each one of the subjects. Because frankly I am quite bad in studying for a few of them and keeping important facts. Even as hard as I try, I dont seem to make much progress in any of them. Which is bringing me kinda down and makes me want to stop trying :/ Would be amazing, if you could help in any way. Thaankkss again! <3

  25. I’m having one of those days where you just can’t seem to focus. Reading this kind of makes want to study. Thank you.

  26. thanks for the tips! i’ve been studying 3 hours per week for 5 years , but this year , stress has added up and i just can’t seem to motivate myself to study , but after reading this , it really got me going , thanks for the tips! πŸ˜€

  27. Thank you for your advice on five ways to motivate myself. I am currently working on my master’s in psychology degree. At the moment I have 4.0 GPA from previous classes with one year left to graduation. I am halfway through my 10 week Applied Statistics class with a grade so far of 65 F. I am good at everything except BORING math. Every time I open my statistics book I either daydream or hyperventilate. All other subjects are super easy for me but I have to have Applied Statistics course in order to graduate. Also at my online college any grade under a β€œB” requires student probation which adds to my stress instead of motivating me. Do you have any more advice for people like me?

    1. Hi Anna

      Statistics can be challenging! Reading about MANOVAs, t-test, regression, repeated measures ANOVAs, cronbachs alpha, etc can be overwhelming (you’re not alone, I’ve been brushing up on my stats recently for my PhD research).

      My only advice would be what I have written in this blog post – https://learningfundamentals.com.au/blog/10-ways-to-boost-your-motivation-and-mood-to-help-you-get-started-on-projects/

      Worrying about your grades is a waste of your precious time, energy and attention. Trust that if you put in the work, you will be OK!

      Start small and keep going when things get uncomfortable! That discomfort will eventually subside πŸ™‚

      All the best,


  28. Jane – I find myself lacking motivation in this day and age because the cut off averages and overall expectations are ridiculous. I also find myself competing on students taking Adderral and Ritalin. How do I compete against a person who pops a pill and can focus on a subject for 9 hours straight with no distraction? The human brain is not meant to do that. Us fair people who try to keep a balanced lifestyle simply stand no chance against these idiots taking drugs during finals and starting cultural clubs with exclusive exam banks (I’m looking at you Chinese Student Association, refer to most recent cheating scandal at University of Toronto). The system is broken, this world is hopeless, and we have all the wrong people (read: mindless drones) for the most important jobs. How do I motivate myself now? Knowing that they will spit on my 83% average after all my hard work anyway?

  29. I am faciing a lot of problems regardding studies. It never used to happen with me. I think i have lost that inspiration in me because whatever i do iam never able to concentrate. All this is affecting my grades and i fell really depressed.:(

  30. The five ways to motivate yourself to study really helped me. I lost my interest in studying and was on my way to withdraw from studies but thanks the Author of this document.
    I now know what to do.

  31. hey! thanks a lot! i particularly find the point of visualizing your actions pretty effective!that kinda really makes u do it! and da thing about doing sumthing even if its very small and not worrying about da project is also very true!!i do that!anyway thanks and hope there’s more advice!!!!

  32. I used to be a bright student, but I lost my focus during my graduation period. I’m going through a high time when I should be studying hard to make my future bright. And this article has helped me a lot. Its all about positive thinking, every action has an equal reaction. So if you study hard, that is your action, the results will surely be fruitful, the reaction. So don’t lose hope, keep working hard thinking about the consequences of your hard work. Eliminate all the worries and elements of doubt from your mind. See yourself rejoicing at the position you want to be at and the result will be magical. πŸ™‚

  33. ‘fear disappears in the face of action’

    This is my new favourite quote. Thanks for the fantastic article!

  34. really well said.I love the advice.I think I can do it and I do feel inspired.thanks for all the good advices.you’ve been very helpful.I am going to have my final examinations this semester and I was lost.I really don’t know what to do or how to start.until I read this very good written article of yours.once again thank you for your inspiration.=)

  35. I am a b.Tech final yr student, and i was good scholar in my past days. Before two month ago i met a girl which makes my life so beautiful and full of diffrent colours of feelings. I never faced such amazing and heavenly movments in my life before that girl. Her memories does’nt leave me for a moment. And now i m very nervous for my studies. Many times i tried with my books, notes and pen but i stuck and daydreaming about her.What to do for my study?
    Please help me…

    1. This is a difficult situation! I recommend you work in short sprints of 20 – 30 minutes and then have a break where you allow yourself to think about your girlfriend. If whilst you’re working a thought pops into your mind about your girlfriend, just notice it and let it go when you’re ready.

      Unfortunately, you can’t try to stop thinking about your girlfriend as trying to stop thinking about anything means the thought will just come back stronger (this is known as the rebound effect in Psychology).

      It’s not easy, but with practice and a bit of self discipline you will be OK.
      The honeymoon period will soon pass too πŸ™‚

      I hope this helps!

      Jane Genovese

  36. Lol, im gone, dont feel that motivation anymore.. with half of my friends finishing their exams already… studying is so intense and sleepy and boringly lonelyyy. last exam tomorrow within the 4 weeks (completed 6/7) T_T

  37. This post totally helps me to regain a bit of my motivation. These past few days I totally lacked any motivation to even start doing any of my assignments. And I have four pending assignments! Thank you so much~ =)

  38. Thanks man :)! I am going to play some online fps before I get back to hw but just by reading this, it put my mind into a completely different mindset. Incredible how the mind works.

    Just think ahead people! It’s fucking worth it ;)!
    More money, more happiness, more years to live, less stress and best of all you can enjoy all those things and more without feeling that guilt. We all know it’s the worse, when you’re out with friends when you know you should be doing hw. Well I better get back to my schedule.

  39. Thank you for your tips Jane,

    Its sometimes difficult to study when you know it will be difficult especially if you dont understand the topic.

    I realised that rather than under estimate myself its better to just do it…. one tiny step at a time. I soon realised by doing this I not only managed to get through my portfolio but learned many things along the way.

    It is therefore important to conclude that its not just about getting it done but learning along the way…… Ghazalax

    1. Wise words Ghazala. I totally agree with you. It’s so important to enjoy the learning process along the way. If you just get it done for the sake of ticking it off your list of things to do, it’s going to be extremelly unfulfilling.

  40. All your tips are really good, but I have another problem. I get motivated initially and then later on when i start studying I tend to get dull and demotivated. The topics are interesting, but I just seem to have lost the enthusiasm with which I study. Can you please help me?

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Ryuuki. This is a common problem, so I’m glad you have mentioned it.
      I will write about how to stay motivated and keep momentum going with study and projects in a future blog post.

      Thanks for the idea πŸ™‚



      1. i love ur quotes … they are so motivating.. i a working on my LLM thesis .. almost all of friends are done with it but i am still struck with it… after going through this blog i am gonna start writing at least one page a day …

  41. im really motivated,thanks for reminding that “this wont go on forever”…it makes me fight like for the last time.

  42. Thank you very much for your words! I feel very pumped to study for the exam I have tomorrow! The last piece of advice really stood out to me. It states “this won’t go on forever” , which makes me realize, “yes, you’re absolutely right, it won’t!”
    This is a very helpful article! And I hope you did awesome on your honour thesis! Thanks, again!

  43. i guess the most important thing is to have determination and to stay positive πŸ™‚

  44. Thanks for the amazing advice Jane. These are really helpful tips! I especially like the quote you included by Jesse Jackson, I’ve committed it to memory now πŸ™‚

  45. it was indeed a very helpful article. Take studies as a challenge and set small goals and work to achieve them ….those small goals should ultimately lead to your bigger goal (y)

  46. Thanks for this amazing information. the thing is I’m good at studies and do really well if try hard and stick to it. But alot of times I just cant get myself to study. I feel like this is the most boring thing in the world!! I want to cry thinking that I have to do this to be a professional(which i want to be) so I have to really work hard to motivate myself. I hope these tios would work. Thanks!!

  47. Gosh.. im trying to deffer stress by avoiding studying and we have an exam like 3 days from now sooooo.. thanks for the advice!!

  48. I am on my second term for my MBA and I am so demotivated, it is beginning to worry me. Your article might just do the trick I need to read the first two chapters of a boring subject. Thank you so much.

  49. Actually the only way to do those five things is to know you will be leading your self into some fun.

    No matter what the cognative dissonance (barriers based in stress) is based on a childhood theme of this is boring I’m not gonna do it and then gets disguised.

    Still, if someone or something is coercing you into doing you’re work, you need to know about that background stuff to focus on the why. Cause otherwise you’ll know you are doing it for a self defeating purpose.

    But once you got that, I think those are some pretty swell steps.

  50. I have another tip:
    I blocked some social media sites and some funny garbage sites. I still have the ability to unblock them, but it’s an extra barrier.
    Maybe it’s just a symptom, but I am frequently distracted by those sites.

  51. Hey Jane,
    This is really fantastic advice! I’m always striving to find more ways to motivate myself and work more effectively, so thank you.
    I also find that rewarding myself is a great way to keep motivated – the incentive of being able to go out with friends or for dinner at the end of a long day is my secret to powering through large workloads!
    If you’re interested, you could check out my blog http://ruleof8.wordpress.com/ as it’s filled with tips and tricks on how to make the most out of student life and studying effectively.
    – Paris

  52. Love this! Now I know where my maths teacher gets all this advice from! it’s exactly what’s written in this!

  53. Visualising myself studying is the one thing i never did and i guess i already feel the urge to open the books and solve those irritating problems… thnks for the nicely written article.

  54. I am a mature aged student struggling at the moment with studying. I have to rote learn a whole lot of stuff. You have some very useful tips here. Thank you and good luck to everyone trying to study.

  55. I am a new to studying, completing a Bachelor in Social Sciences with a major in Criminology online, at the ripe old age of 46 years. I love your posts, this is how I feel everyday, my writing sucks, but writing that next paragraph, no matter how bad, keeps me motivated. I know each time I progress to the next stage, I’m getting better.

    Thank you … πŸ™‚

    1. Yay! That is wonderful Lorena!

      It’s never too late to study at university and complete a degree.
      In fact, my mature age students are usually super switched on! And they are way more motivated than the students that come straight out of high school.

      You are right. You (and your writing) will just keep getting better and better Lorena.
      This was my experience at university.

      Keep enjoying the process and focusing on one paragraph at a time πŸ™‚

      Dr Jane Genovese

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