Here's Why Reading Can Feel Boring And What You Can Do About It

You can learn to love reading, even if right now it feels like a chore.
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Reading has been one of my top hobbies since I learned how to read, so I've spent a lot of time over the years talking about reading as a hobby. One of the most common things I hear when talking about books is that they're boring. This was puzzling to me, as I'm a lifelong bookworm who's perpetually reading a book and has a "to-read" list several hundred books long. So, I set out to find the reasons behind why reading feels like a chore, and offer some tips for retraining your brain to love reading. 

Why Reading Bores Some People

Many people are bored when reading not because the books themselves are boring, but because of other factors like the brain's dopamine reward system, bad memories associated with being forced to read in school, and distractions. 

1. Reading's Dopamine Reward Takes Time 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or a chemical that carries information in our brains. It plays a big role in whether or not we believe a task is worth the effort it requires to complete. Dopamine is released when the brain is anticipating a reward and again when it receives that reward. It creates a self-reinforcing cycle of motivation and payoff. 

The problem is that reading is a task that takes a really long time, and so the gap between the initial release of dopamine for motivation and the final release of dopamine for reward is large. This means that it takes a longer time for the cycle to reinforce itself.

Other popular hobbies like playing video games or watching TV often have much shorter gaps between motivation and reward, which means that their cycles perpetuate faster, and we get more dopamine from them much quicker. This makes us feel like these hobbies are worth our effort whereas reading may not seem like it's worth the trouble. 

2. Overstimulation Makes Focusing Difficult

We live in a world that is saturated with things trying to get and keep our attention. The constant flow of notifications and content from social media and other sources means that even in the best of times, we're often too preoccupied with other thoughts to focus on comprehending the words on a page. 

On top of that, we're predisposed to give our attention to the thing that occupies our senses the most. The flashing lights, sounds, and mental stimulation from games and movies engage more of our senses and as these experiences get more immersive, reading keeps paling in comparison. 

3. Bad Memories From School Influence Our Future Attitude Towards Books

Oftentimes, the only time people read books was when they were forced to read them in school. However, a lack of autonomy can cause an activity to feel boring. This means that even if a student might have found the assigned book interesting, the fact that they had no choice in reading it could make them feel bored by it. 

This feeling of boredom while reading is an experience that stays with someone, and the more they keep being forced to read, the more the idea that reading is boring is reinforced. That's why most people stop reading after they finish school and have a choice. 

4. Lack of Time Leads to Stressful Reading

Since reading a print novel requires the use of one's eyes and hands, it is usually necessary to set aside a chunk of time to give the book your full attention. However, if the mind is preoccupied with a packed and busy schedule, it may be hard to focus on a narrative while stress about other things is looming in the background. This lack of focus can make the novel seem unengaging and cause disinterest in reading, even though the book isn't the root of the problem. 

5. Struggling With Vocabulary Can Cause Frustration

A book may seem boring, uninteresting, and unengaging to someone who is struggling with the vocabulary in the novel. Frustration and confusion when reading can also lead to bad memories associated with reading, which, as previously discussed, makes our brains predisposed to not enjoy reading in the long term. Luckily, as I discussed in this article, the more you read, the more your vocabulary naturally grows!

6. Reading Can Be Too Relaxing 

Reading is often recommended as a way to wind down before bed. This is because the focus required to read a book is very relaxing, and can make some people sleepy if they're already a little tired. This is a common feature of many relaxing activities like yoga and massage, both of which I have fallen asleep during when I was not well-rested. Sleepiness is not a sign that reading is boring, just that your body is relaxed and able to slip into the sleep it desires.

7. Written Words Just Don't Engage Their Brain

Some people simply struggle to engage with written words, perhaps due to the inability to hear the voices of the characters and narrator in their heads. This makes books feel much less engaging than, say, TV or movies where this isn't an issue.

These people may benefit from reading aloud, but there are also other solutions to explore. Just because the written word is a challenge doesn't mean someone is cut off from reading and engaging with books!

8. Lack of Imagination

As I mentioned in the last point, some people struggle with hearing the characters and picturing the story in their heads. Though it can be due to struggling with written words, it can also be due to an underdeveloped imagination. 

Having parents that read to a child can make a huge impact on that child's future ability to imagine in the future. All hope is not lost, however, as the imagination can grow the more you read, especially if you use some of the strategies I explore in the next section!

9. They're Reading the Wrong Things

Oftentimes people get influenced by ideas about what they "should" be reading when choosing their books, so they end up picking up difficult to parse classics or popular non-fiction in topics that don't really interest them. This is almost guaranteed to cause a bad experience, especially for someone who's just starting to read for fun.

Tips for Learning to Love Reading

Though the factors contributing to boredom seem like a lot to overcome, learning to love reading is possible. It does take effort, but once you set the cycle in motion, it gets easier to enjoy the act of reading and engaging your imagination. 

Here are some ways you can kickstart the process and create new memories of enjoyable reading:

1. Choose the Right Book

This one seems obvious, but it's probably the most important factor in whether or not someone will enjoy the experience of reading. Choosing a book that interests you is the key to making sure you will actually want to put in the effort required to read the book. 

Pick something that is on a topic that interests you, if you want to read nonfiction. Biographies of musicians or sports players you already like can be a great starting point for a lot of people. If you want to read fiction, pick something that has a plot that genuinely sounds interesting to you, even if it's a children's or young adult novel. The important thing is to create a good memory of an enjoyable reading experience. 

2. Stop Reading What Bores You

Dropping books that start to bore you and feel like a chore is important to building up good experiences of reading. Many avid readers have lists of books that they did not finish, and that's okay. Reminding yourself that you don't have to finish every book you start helps reinforce the idea that reading is now something you're doing voluntarily. 

3. Keep a Reading Journal

Reading journals are, at their core, personal reminders of the books you’ve read. They can be as simple as a notebook where you keep a list of books you’ve completed or they can contain reading goals, challenges, and more. 

The idea behind keeping a reading journal is commemorating those good memories of reading, reinforcing the motivation to keep reading, and holding yourself accountable for any goals you set. If this sounds like a fun and interesting way to get you invested in reading, check out my six ideas for your new reading journal to get started, 

4. Join a Book Club

Similar to the reading journal, a book club is a way to keep you accountable. Book clubs also provide a structure and schedule for reading that some people may find helpful. Furthermore, the social aspect of book clubs can be an excellent motivator for more outgoing and extroverted people. 

Many in-person book clubs exist in indie bookstores around the world, and online book clubs are easy to find on the social book cataloging website Goodreads. If you can’t find one that piques your interest, try starting one with like-minded friends. For example, if you and your friends love movies, you could start a book club where you read the books movies are based on and then watch them as a group. 

5. Try E-Readers or Audiobooks

The convenience of e-readers may be what you need to keep you on track for your reading goals. They're lightweight and portable, so keeping them with you and pulling them out whenever you have some spare time just makes sense and allows you to get reading done while you’re waiting for the train or at the doctor’s office. You can even download apps on your phone and read books directly on your mobile device, with no extra tablet required. 

For some people, focusing on and engaging with written words can be difficult, or they don’t often have time during the day where their eyes are unoccupied. If this is you, give audiobooks a try! You can listen to books while on your commute to work, taking a walk, or while you’re getting ready for bed. Audiobook services like Audible and Libro.fm (which supports independent bookstores) allow you to download books onto your phone so you can listen anywhere. Audiobooks are a great alternative for people who don't engage with words well and are useful as a tool for developing the skills required to enjoy print books in the future. 

6. Pick a Book That Was Made into a Movie or Show

Books that got popular enough to warrant a movie or TV series are bound to be at least mildly interesting. Plus, you can allow yourself the reward of watching the movie or show after you finish the book(s) it was based on. For books and TV series like "Harry Potter" or "Twilight," I recommend reading book one, watching movie one, and continuing in that pattern. 

Alternatively, you can watch the movie or TV show first, and use what you already know about the story to help you along as you read. People who are not used to reading books can struggle to remember story beats that were previously read, so knowing the basic plot structure from the movie can help!

7. Use Graphic Novels as a Gateway

Reading comics and graphic novels may not be considered "real reading" by some pedantic readers, but I disagree. Reading graphic novels is definitely a valid form of reading to me, and they can be used as a great stepping stone into reading text-only novels.

Many children's librarians support comics as a way to help struggling and reluctant readers in childhood, and I think the same idea can apply to adults as well. If the "walls of text" in novels seem too unengaging, try graphic novels instead!

8. Incentivize Completing Books

As a kid, one of the main reasons I read so many books and learned to enjoy them was that my school gave us free pizza coupons for meeting our reading goals. Giving me an incentive to finish my reading goal helped me kickstart the dopamine reward cycle that still helps me enjoy books to this day.

Now, as an adult, no one is going to give you free pizza for reading books, but nothing is stopping you from giving yourself your own reward. Pizza or takeout, some new shoes, or whatever gets you motivated to finish your goal! 

9. Try Reading At Different Times of the Day

Like I previously mentioned, the relaxed state that reading can put you in isn't necessarily a sign that what you're reading is boring, and can actually be beneficial if you use it to your advantage. If you're someone who gets sleepy from reading, try making reading part of your bedtime routine instead of trying to read at other times of the day. This will help you come to appreciate the calm, sleepy state reading leaves you in!


I hope that now you better understand why reading can feel so difficult and are equipped with some strategies to retrain your brain! If you want more tips on becoming a bookworm, check out my Ultimate Guide to Reading More!

Suzi is a writer who perpetually has a coffee in her hand and a cat on her lap. Her other hobbies include reading and playing video games.

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