While learning how to lucid dream as a teen, I made my fair share of rookie mistakes. Sure, for me this was all part of the learning process, but I probably would have got the hang of it a lot faster had I already known about them. There is a lot to be said for expert tuition, which is what I aim to offer you now.
I've since taught a lot of others how to have lucid dreams and subsequently seen many of them make the same mistakes. These are basic common trip hazards which beginners fall victim to over and over. I want to help you see past these hurdles and start practicing lucid dreaming for real.
So -- which of these 10 lucid dreaming mistakes are you making..?
To be a great piano player, you have to play daily. To master Jiu Jitsu, you have to train hard. To be a skilled lucid dreamer, you have to make the effort - or give up now.
The most common question I hear from newbies goes along these lines:
"I've been trying to have a lucid dream for two weeks already and had NO lucid dreams yet. What am I doing wrong? Please help me!!"
A whole two weeks and you're ready to quit? Oh dear.
Ok, maybe I'm being a bit harsh. It is doubtlessly frustrating to put so much effort into something and get nothing out of it. But beginners have to understand that the first few lucid dreams are the hardest - you're mastering a brand new skill here. And those early weeks (maybe months) of effort can be the least rewarding. But you're building up to a lifelong, life-changing ability...
"Practice isn't something you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good."
~ Malcolm Gladwell
The problem is that we are used to having things NOW. And so we expect magic wand solutions. I can guarantee, there is no pill or secret that will produce instant lucid dreams. They can increase your chances - yes. But the hard work and mental conditioning has to come from you.
Here's the deal: if something is worth having, it's worth working for. And while there are some people who appear to lucid dream naturally, and others who appear to pick it up faster, for most people learning this new skill takes time and practice. Ultimately, everyone is capable of doing it.
How much time are we talking? That really varies from person to person. One study found that -- with extensive daily commitment -- students of lucid dreaming were able to have their first lucid dream within 3-21 days. That does NOT mean, however, that after 22 days you give up. That's just an average, a guideline, and your experience may well be very different.
It may take you 2 days or 2 months to have your first lucid dream. Are you prepared to commit to that, knowing that you'll have one eventually?
What do I mean by commitment? Generally speaking, I recommend a daily routine along these lines:
(There are plenty of other combinations of routines, this is just one example that I found worked well for me in the early days.)
All up that's at least 40 minutes of practice most days, if not every day, and most of that time is spent in meditation and visualizing desired dreams, which I feel is the most powerful route to a lucid dream.
These practices don't take much physical energy, unlike learning to be a professional athlete, say, but they do require your self-discipline.
Once you attain the mindset of a lucid dreamer, you can scale down the practice. Lucid dreams will simply come more easily. After a few years, I got to the point where I could say "I'll lucid dream about THIS tonight!" and lo, it would happen. That's when I realized the power of incubation.
But be careful not to fall into the trap of laziness and forget about lucid dreaming altogether. There are some basic meditational practices here that should stay with you for the rest of your life.
Now that's commitment!
You're doing it all -- yet you're missing the point. You're the guy who rushes through a 40-minute T'ai Chi routine in 5 minutes flat just to say he's done it.
Here's another classic beginner complaint:
"I tried everything last night. I did MILD, WILD, WBTB, FILD, meditation, subliminals, and like a hundred reality checks. I even ate loads of cheese just before bed for good measure. I still can't lucid dream!!"
So what's gone wrong here?
It's a little of mistake #1 in that he wants it all NOW, but you can also see he's going crazy applying all the techniques he can think of, just so he can tick them off the list. He's clearly not applying the techniques mindfully and is probably missing lots of crucial steps along the way.
To put it another way: imagine you're at a shooting range trying to hit a target. The most effective approach is: Ready... Aim... Fire!
The mistake here is forgetting to aim altogether in your excitement and spraying bullets all over the place, hoping to randomly hit your target and claim the win. Ready... Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!
Performing every lucid dreaming technique in the book is not going to work if you don't perform them with skill and accuracy. It's far better to focus on a few techniques that you can perform calmly and properly.
Then go to sleep and relax. A lucid dream can never be forced.
Someone who has hurriedly applied all the techniques they can find then goes to bed expecting they'll have a lucid dream is likely going to be very disappointed. In fact, this kind of must-have-it pressure makes it less likely to happen and further increases the frustration the next morning.
Make your lucid dreaming practice a slow, purposeful effort. If you don't find meaning in your practice then you're doing it wrong. These are exercises in mindfulness and self awareness that will enhance not only your experience of dreams, but your reality too. It's not a race to the finish line.
And remember, when your mind is ready, lucid dreams will come to you.
My longest, most wonderful lucid dreams take place during morning lie-ins, when dream-filled REM cycles abound. Early alarm calls can kill the sweetest lucid dream life.
If you can help it at all -- try to avoid unnatural awakenings. But what do I mean by "unnatural"?
There's the alarm clock that hurries you off to work. And there's the screaming infant that pulls you from your slumber. If you don't have do deal with either of these distractions, consider yourself blessed -- at least for now, because they'll probably come to steal your sleep one day!
These rude awakenings steal the extra hours of sleep you'd have if you were left undisturbed, making your introduction to the waking day feel artificial, forced and difficult. Now imagine how those hours add up in a year.
This is bad news for everyone - sleep deprivation has a whole host of negative effects - and it's just that little bit worse for lucid dreamers, who are deprived of their finest moments of lucidity.
The final sleep cycles lost to waking demands are rich in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is when you dream the most. What's more, the nature of your sleep cycles in the morning means you will remember these long, detailed "light time dreams" over the short and slippery "night time dreams". It's a huge loss.
For many of us, that makes conscious dreaming a luxury. And if we want to enjoy it, we have to make time to sleep-in as often as possible.
But what if your lifestyle won't accommodate more lie-ins? There are two ways to which most people find they can adapt:
It must be said that even sleep deprived people can remember occasional dreams and have lucid dreams. But the quality and length of these lucid dreams are far poorer, occurring much more sporadically.
So remember this: quality sleep leads to quality dreams.
If your dream world is fuzzy and forgettable, then even your best lucid dreams will be fuzzy and forgettable too. Good dream recall is the essential foundation of lucid dreaming.
Some people make the mistake of practicing advanced lucid dreaming techniques like Wake Induced Lucid Dreams without having a decent level of dream recall to start with. This is just backwards.
Firstly, having good dream recall will increase the intensity of your dreams. This increases your level of self awareness of the dream in progress, making it more likely for lucidity kick in.
Second, keeping a dream journal places importance on your dream life, teaching your unconscious that dreams are to be remembered and actively engaged in. It will help you highlight recurring themes and symbols which can also act as lucidity triggers.
Third, in the unlikely event that you do become spontaneously lucid, your poor ability to recall your dreams means you probably won't remember it! Half of the experience - to remember and reflect - is lost forever.
So, keeping a dream journal is an essential practice for a frequent lucid dreamer. End of story.
But what if you wake up every day with a blank slate and nothing to write in your journal?
This is unusual but there are people who claim it happens every single night. If you think you never dream - or you just can't commit your dreams to paper fast enough - see my article on How to Remember Your Dreams.
Most first-timers get so excited in their lucid dreams, they accidentally wake themselves up. This will keep happening until you learn the basics of dream stabilization.
I made a rookie mistake in my very first lucid dream. I ran around shouting "I'm dreaming! "I'm dreaming!" and got all excited until I woke up. Duh.
It was a cool experience, and that 60 seconds or so in my virtual reality dream land completely blew my mind away. But what a waste! I held lucidity in the palm of my hand - and let it slip away...
This is a common mistake. It is damn exciting. Nothing I can say will prepare you for the euphoric rush that accompanies your first true moment of lucidity.
And yet -- if you are aware that it will be overwhelming, you can take measures to calm yourself in the moment, knowing that it's crucial NOT to go running around hugging dream characters and shouting in their faces.
When you have your first lucid dream - just stay calm. Smile, for sure, and let yourself enjoy the experience of lucidity. But don't physically shout or jump for joy or go crazy - not at least until you've stabilized the dream.
This means increasing your conscious awareness until the dream appears in high definition and you're happy you are in full control of yourself.
I do this by rubbing my hands together, calmly saying "I'm dreaming" and do a reality check like pushing my fingers through my hand. If the dream is still blurry or unstable, I demand "CLARITY NOW!" and examine it with all my senses. I keep at it until the dream is extremely vivid and clear.
All this only takes a few seconds, and you'll be reward with a much longer and clearer lucid dream. You can repeat those steps if you notice the dream slipping away - saying "I'm dreaming" every minute or so is advised.
What happens if you don't stabilize your lucid dream early on?
It can go two ways:
So, stabilize that dream. Here are some practical tips on doing so.
Memory and cognition are impaired in the dream world, even while lucid, and you'll need to repeatedly assert that you're dreaming to stay lucid and in control.
As I touched on in mistake #5 - even after you've stabilized your lucid dream, as a beginner your lucidity can still be quite fragile. You'll need to remind yourself that you're dreaming every minute or so (sometimes more, sometimes less) or risk losing that thread of conscious awareness.
You can further enhance the dream and remind yourself that you're lucid with the dream stabilizing techniques exactly as you did before. Have a few go-to reality checks up your sleeve, like floating, counting your fingers, checking your watch, doing some math, and so on.
It may sound redundant to keep performing these little mental tricks but while your body is asleep and dreaming, your brain functions quite differently to while you're awake. You're operating under different rules.
Staying highly lucid like this will make your experience last much longer. I have had continuous lucid dreams lasting up to an hour this way. It will also enable you to follow your intention and control the dream with ease.
For most lucid dreamers, dream control tends to evolve rapidly - but don't expect to be omnipotent from the word go. Respect your dream world. There are rules to learn.
This complaint particularly gets up my nose because it propagates misinformation, based on a simple beginner's mistake.
"In my lucid dream, I couldn't fly, fight my boss, or summon up Angelina Jolie naked. Dream control is fallacy!"
There are different levels of lucidity - and in the beginning, it's quite common to dwell in semi-lucid realms, unable to take full control of the dream.
While some lucky individuals have an uncanny ability to wield full control over their lucid dreams straight away, most people have to master dream control in small steps. I know I did.
In my first few lucid dreams I had virtually no control. It was all I could do to stay conscious through sheer willpower and excitement, walking around the the dreamscape exactly as it was presented to me, without any of my conscious will influencing the scenery or dream figures.
These lucid dreams were still AMAZING, just in terms of the heightened intensity and realization that I was moving around, conscious, inside my own head. But ultimately I felt powerless to guide the dream.
When I tried to fly, for instance, I couldn't get even an inch off the ground. I just stood there like a lemon wondering "Why the heck can't I fly?" And that thought pattern only exacerbated the effect of my limiting rational thinking in the unlimited, fantastical dream world.
Eventually I learned that you have to teach yourself the laws of the lucid dream world. So instead of trying to fly like Superman straight away, try running and then bouncing along the landscape with a little less gravity than usual.
Then extend your bounces into giant leaps. Shoot through the air with your new powers. Test them out, exactly as you would if you discovered anti-gravity boots in the real world - slowly. These early experiences will dictate your future understanding of lucid dreams. This is called experiential learning, and it underpins the whole human experience.
Here's another way to look at this. In The Matrix (classic VR romp from a pair of lucid dreamers themselves) Neo didn't believe he was The One and that he could warp and manipulate his virtual reality world. He became bound by this limiting belief.
In the end, when he realized the power was all in his mind, he was able to soar over the city, fight evil agents without any effort, and resurrect Trinity from the dead. He became omnipotent in his lucid universe.
This is a beautiful demonstration of how your personal beliefs (both consciously and unconsciously) dictate your success in the lucid dream world. With boundless confidence, you too can soar. And if you lack that confidence, then you can learn it, one small step (or bounce) at a time.
Newbies seeking lucid dream sex can end up on a wild goose chase. Between fickle dream figures and sensory overload, it can all become a waste of quality dream time.
In the beginning, most people find that dream sex is their instinctive primary goal. And that's no surprise really - in a lucid dream, you can explore this basic human drive on a whole new level, having gratuitous sex with whoever you want.
But there's a catch. Conscious dream sex takes a lot of skill and concentration. For a start, you better be good at stabilizing your dreams, summoning up attractive sexual partners, and keeping your cool when things really hot up. Otherwise it's pretty likely you'll suffer from sensory overload and wake up.
What's more, initiating sex in a lucid dream isn't always that easy. Often, the unconscious mind has a different agenda, and no matter how motivated you are to satiate that physical desire, your dreaming mind just wants something different out of the experience. So don't be at all surprised if, just as you manage to find Scarlett Johansson naked, she morphs into an ugly stranger who you find rather repulsive.
For beginners, seeking lucid dream sex can end up in a wild goose chase. If you go about it the wrong way, you'll end up disappointed. And you can waste so much quality lucid dream time pursuing this one superficial goal.
Ok, so it'll be extremely gratifying in the moment and provide a nice memory when you wake up - IF you can see it through. But for most inexperienced dream explorers the act itself is just too intense, requiring more advanced dream control skills and the co-operation of the dreaming mind.
My advice is to take what you can get, but don't make sex your sole intention, especially in the early days. There's plenty of time for that later on when your skills are more developed and you don't have to waste the majority of your precious lucid dream time in a fruitless pursuit of intimacy.
Beginners get frustrated when they dream about lucid dreaming, but fail to become lucid. It may feel like a missed opportunity, but don't despair - it happens to the best of us.
This isn't really a "mistake" but it does seem to bother a lot of beginners. The good news is, this is totally normal, even in experienced oneironauts.
I once dreamed about giving an entire lecture on lucid dreaming without acknowledging that I was dreaming at the time. I only became lucid at the end when the professor came up to me and said "Let's try some lucid dreaming now." The revelation hit me like a brick. "Of course! I'm dreaming now!"
Truth is, in the dreamscape, I rarely associate the words "lucid dreaming" with questioning my reality or having greater self awareness. They're just words. In order to become lucid, I usually having to think something like "I'm asleep in bed right now" or best of all "This is a dream!" No need to mess about with fancy words like lucid - what does that even mean to most people? Clarity? If someone says the word "conscious" in your dream, or "control", it doesn't mean anything either, right?
So, don't rely on the phrase lucid dreaming to trigger your lucidity. The trigger is a deep realization that, right now, your current environment is a simulation. It is created by your own dreaming mind on a philosophically self-aware level.
Lucid dreams aren't just for dream control. Within the dream is a two-way communication system with your inner self - who will directly answer any given question.
Earlier I talked about the mistake of pursuing physical goals like dream sex or trying to fly before you understand that your mind controls dream flight - not physics.
But many beginners don't realize that there is much more to lucid dreaming than mere dream control. Indeed, some lucid dream experts shun the idea of dream control, seeing it as an instant gratification tool for the superficially-minded. Instead, they see lucidity at its roots: as the gateway to communication with the inner self.
What does this mean? And could it really offer more than spectacularly realistic flying, sex, teleportation, space travel, time travel, and all the other so-called superficial stuff we indulge in our lucid dreams?
One avid dream researcher in this area is Robert Waggoner, who teaches us that there is an awareness behind the dream that shouldn't be ignored. This awareness can be defined as the unconscious mind or inner self. It is the part of your psyche that acts as a silent observer during the waking day, and plays out its interpretations of your life during all kinds of dreams at night.
So what does this inner self have to say to us?
Now there's an intriguing area of exploration. Unlike non-lucid dreams, which require abstract dream analysis and interpretation, here we have an opportunity for literal dream meaning. It's as simple as this: instead of taking charge of the dream and manipulating it consciously to meet your waking desires, why not step back and ask what it wants to show you? Specifically, why not ask the dream:
The possibilities are endless and you will soon discover a whole deeper side of your psyche that perhaps you never even knew existed. The answers to your questions will come from another place altogether, like a second awareness, completely separate from your own. And you can probe this new perspective in all manner of forms inside the lucid dream world. What an amazing gift!