There are a few components involved in successfully waking up inside your dreams, otherwise known as lucid dreaming. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times, you’ll wake up and immediately wonder why you missed your chance.
Probably the single most critical skill to master is the habit of asking yourself if you could be dreaming and being willing to test the answer. As luck would have it, my last sleep cycle included a dream in which my mom showed up unexpectedly at work, just as I was going to get to have some down time and relax. That she would do that is highly unlikely for many reasons, and so when I saw her, I asked myself if I could be dreaming. My answer to myself? No, because I’d just had the same situation in a dream where my sister dropped by awkwardly, and it couldn’t be a dream twice. I missed a chance to control that dream because instead of looking around surreptitiously to see if I could change the time on the clocks, I didn’t really follow through on the question. How helpful of my brain to supply me with an example for this post, huh?
So, to sum up the key skill: get used to asking yourself throughout your day or at any time you notice something out of the ordinary, “Am I dreaming?” and when you do, take yourself seriously enough to test the hypothesis.
The first part of this is wonderfully simple. You just have to remember to do it. At regular intervals throughout your day, take a moment to ask yourself (mentally; one likes to fly under the “crazy” radar), “Am I dreaming right now?” You can ask every hour, whenever you pull up to a stoplight, when the phone rings, if something unusual happens, when your cat horks up a hairball on the carpet… anything that happens often enough to create a habit of asking the dreaming question. I hope that last isn’t a regular occurrence, but hey, if that’s your life, work with it. Just pull back and observe yourself and the situation and ask the question.
The second part is also easy, but it requires a willingness to take yourself seriously that can be difficult to muster. Whether it’s because we’re usually sure we’re awake and hate to be wrong, or because the question is generally “no” and we begin to ask rhetorically instead of thoughtfully, the answering half of the equation can get skimmed over. In most cases, if you really consider the question, you’ll be able to tell… but, of course, there are tricks. Trying to change the time on the nearest clock is one. Trying to read something and then change it is another. My favorite is to attempt to levitate as a possible prelude to flying away. Another, especially if it’s a nightmare I’m questioning, is to see if I can stop the action for a second. If you can’t immediately tell you’re in a dream, do something to modify the environment in a way you couldn’t in waking life. It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to take long, but you do need to signal to yourself that you really want to find out.
If you’ve been keeping a dream journal and paying attention to the trends, there are other ways to approach it. Does your brother-in-law have black hair in real life but red hair half the time in your dreams? Tell yourself that the next time you see him with red hair, you’ll know you’re dreaming. It’s a nice shortcut.
You have to be careful, though. Your subconscious is good at keeping dreams out of your everyday life. I gleefully discovered several “I’m dreaming” indicators, like not being able to stop a car no matter how hard I braked (yet never hitting anything), whacked-out staircases, not being able to read, and having trouble removing clothing. Within weeks, stairs straightened, cars stopped, and I could take a shower in a dream without the jaws of life to get my pants off. Keep your dream-clues updated.
An overall desire to become conscious in the dream state is sometimes enough to trigger lucidity, and a healthy dose of auto-suggestion won’t come amiss. Repeating to yourself, “Tonight, I recognize when I’m dreaming” just before you drop off can set the stage. Keeping a voice recorder or notebook next to the bed reinforces your intention to dream, too. You can even date and label the page as an act of confidence that you will have a lucid dream that you’ll then be able to record. The point of those things is to give weight to the notion that you CAN be conscious in a dream and capture the experience. They’re helpful rituals, little self psych-outs that help get you into that dreaming state of mind and smooth the way, and you can easily create your own. But when it comes right down to it, while these set the stage and can help increase your chances, you still MUST be willing to accept the fact that you’re dreaming, and that you know it. When the thought, “It’s a dream!” strikes, you have to agree. The more you can train yourself to have the thought, the better your chances of having it when you’re dreaming.