While learning how to lucid dream as a teen, I made more than my fair share of beginner mistakes.
Arguably, this was all part of the learning process that led me here today. But there's no reason you have to go through the same journey of frustrating errors. Make the most of your lucid dreams from day one.
I've since taught a lot of people how to have lucid dreams, both online and through my home study course, and subsequently helped them avoid these exact same mistakes. It's not just me.
Unless you understand the nature of these pitfalls, you may well fall victim to them over and over. They're not always obvious, and in the surreal world of lucid dreaming, the solutions aren't obvious either.
Let's sort through them now.
For most people, learning to lucid dream takes commitment. Just like taking up the piano or martial arts - you have to train regularly to achieve your goals.
The most common question I hear from beginners goes:
"I've been trying to have a lucid dream for three nights and still NOTHING. What am I doing wrong? Please help me!!"
A whole three nights and you're ready to quit?
Ok, it is frustrating to put so much effort into something and appear to get nothing out of it. But actually, all the effort you put in is priming your brain for lucid dreams on an unconscious level. And when you reach that point of critical mass, you'll snap into a lucid dream. It will happen, eventually.
The first few lucid dreams are the hardest. You're mastering a brand new skill, one that does not yet come naturally. So those early days and weeks of effort can be the least rewarding.
Remember, you are building up to a lifelong ability. Your time isn't wasted.
"Practice isn't something you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good." ~ Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success
The problem is that we are used to having things now. We have come expect magic wand solutions. There is no pill or "secret" that will produce instant lucid dreams. There are countless ways to increase your chances of a lucid dream - but the hard work and mental conditioning has to come from you.
How much time work are we talking?
That 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?
There are various combinations of lucidity routines to follow but one that worked well for me in the beginning was: recording your dreams, performing reality checks, doing 20-60 minutes of meditation, and performing the MILD or WILD during night-time awakenings. Every day.
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 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 practices here that should stay with you for the rest of your life.
Some people load up on every technique in the book but just for the sake of ticking them off the list. Practice lucid dreaming mindfully - or not at all.
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?
He wants it all now - and he's going crazy applying all the techniques he can think of, just so he can tick them off the list. He rushes through a 40-minute guided meditation in 5 minutes. What's the point of that?
He's not applying the techniques mindfully.
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 desperate for a lucid dream is likely going to be disappointed. Often, 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.
When your mind is ready, lucid dreams will come to you.
My longest 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 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 the alarm call 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 dreams much more easily.
For many of us trying to fulfil busy modern lives, that makes lucid 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? Here are some ways you can adapt:
Of course, even sleep deprived people dream. It is essential to healthy brain function. So it is possible to have occasional lucid dreams when you're sleep deprived, but the quality and length of these lucid dreams are usually poorer, occurring much more sporadically.
Quality sleep leads to quality dreams.
If your dream world is forgettable, then even your best lucid dreams will be forgettable too. Good dream recall is an essential foundation of lucid dreaming.
It's a rookie mistake to attempt advanced lucid dreaming techniques without having a decent level of dream recall to start with.
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 greater significance on your dream life, teaching your unconscious that dreams are to be remembered and actively engaged in. It will also help you highlight recurring themes and dream symbols which 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! The experience is lost forever.
Start out by getting a special dream journal or notebook just for this purpose. Try to write down at least one dream every morning.
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. See my article on how to remember your dreams.
Most first-timers get so excited to be lucid, that the dream becomes unstable and they accidentally wake up. Their lucid dreams end prematurely every time.
I often made this mistake in my early lucid dreams.
The first time I ever became lucid, I ran around shouting "I'm dreaming! "I'm dreaming!" and got all excited until I woke up.
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 to become consciously aware in a dream for the first time ever. Nothing I can say will prepare you for the euphoric rush that accompanies your first moment of lucidity.
And yet, as long as you know it will be overwhelming, and any kind of adrenaline-fueled emotional reaction will wake you up, you're more likely to keep a lid on your lucid behavior.
Don't go running around hugging dream characters and shouting in their faces. Don't try to have sex with everyone there and then. And don't shout at the top of your lucid lungs "I'M DREAMING!!!!"
Instead, just stay calm. Smile and let yourself enjoy the experience of lucidity in the calmest way possible.
Next, stabilize your dream. This will help immensely, enabling you to explore your dream with a bit more enthusiasm.
I do this by rubbing my hands together, calmly saying "I'm dreaming" and doing 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 rewarded with a much longer and clearer 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 more practical tips on doing so.
Memory and cognition are impaired in the dream world, even while lucid, and you'll need to frequently assert that you're dreaming to stay lucid and in control.
Even after you've stabilized your dream, your conscious awareness may still be quite fragile. Remind yourself that you're dreaming every minute or so (sometimes more, sometimes less) or risk the dream reverting.
Have a few go-to reality checks up your sleeve, like floating, counting your fingers, checking your watch, doing some math, and so on. These are all good reminds and are fun to perform in a lucid dream.
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 will make your experience last much longer. I have had continuous lucid dreams lasting up to an hour this way. It will also help you to fulfil your dream goal and control the dream more easily.
Learning to control your dreams is a steep learning curve - but don't expect to be omnipotent from the word go. Respect your dream world; it's driven by unconscious rules.
This is a common mistake among those who have only had one or two lucid dreams. Sadly it often 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 confident 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 dreamscape exactly as it was presented to me.
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 events.
When I tried to lucidly 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?"
That thought pattern only exacerbated the effect of my limiting rational thinking in the unlimited, fantastical dream world.
Eventually I learned that there are unconscious laws of the lucid dream world. Instead of trying to fly like Superman straight away, I began to run and then bounce along the landscape. Baby steps.
These bounces evolved in giant leaps, and soon I was hurtling through the Milky Way. It was more liberating than anything I've ever experienced in waking life.
Here's another way to look at it.
In The Matrix, which was actually created by a pair of lucid dreamers, Neo didn't believe he was The One and that he could warp and manipulate his virtual reality world. So he became bound by this limiting belief.
When he finally realized the power was all in his mind, he was able to soar over the city, fight evil agents without any effort and even 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.
At first, 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 often takes a lot of skill and concentration. For a start, you better be good at stabilizing your dreams, summoning 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 and ready to go, she suddenly morphs into an ugly gremlin with halitosis. Blame your Freudian unconscious.
Even if the gremlins are away, some inexperienced dreamers find the act itself is just too intense, requiring more advanced dream control skills to prevent themselves from waking up. It's just too exciting.
Of course, sometimes it works a treat. Well done you. The act of lucid dream sex is hugely rewarding in the moment.
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.
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 "This can't be real" or best of all "This is a dream!" It's more about the realization, the light bulb moment, rather than the words.
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 dreaming mind on a philosophically self aware level.
Lucid dreams aren't just for dream control. Accessible only in the lucid dream state is a two-way communication system with your true inner self.
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 true 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 awesome stuff in which we indulge while lucid?
One avid proponent of this idea is Robert Waggoner, author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self. He teaches that there is an awareness behind the dream that shouldn't be ignored.
This awareness can be defined as part of a parallel processing system, a second consciousness, one who is an observer rather than executor of free will. It is the part of your self that acts as a silent observer during the waking day, and plays out its interpretations during your dreams at night.
It's an intriguing concept that we might talk directly to this self while lucid. If you could talk to the creator of your dreams, what what you say?
It's more than an opportunity for literal dream interpretation. It's a chance to ask specific questions, whether those are trivial questions like "Where did I leave my keys?" to "What is the purpose of my life?"
Learn more about communicating with this dual awareness in 10 things to ask your lucid dream self.
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It's a myth that you could exhaust yourself having a great big run in a lucid dream. After all, your real muscles are paralyzed during sleep. Your body isn't really running or burning up energy. So why would you feel depleted? So, in terms of physical energy depletion, there's really no logic to this argument. But what about dreams being mentally or emotionally tiring? The best way to test this is to survey lucid dreamers themselves. Go ahead, take our poll. My intuitive response is no - and that's based on my 17 years of personal experience. Lucid dreams aren't tiring for me at all.
When Dom Cobb spins his spinning top in Inception, he does it to determine whether he's awake or dreaming. In reality, the top eventually runs out of energy and falls over. In a dream, it has the potential to spin on forever, which tells him he's dreaming. This idea of using a totem has really caught on with some lucid dreamers. Ryan Hurd of Dream Studies has recently produced a totem specifically for lucid dreaming, called the Lucid Talisman.
Do androids dream of electric sheep? Actually, it's not far off. Artificial neural networks have taken giant leaps in image classification. And yet experts actually know very little about how they work - or why they fail. In order to visualize what's going on in the network, three software engineers at Google decided to turn the network on its head. Alexander Mordvintsev, Christopher Olah and Mike Tyka asked their artifical intelligence bot to enhance an image in such as way as to elicit a particular interpretation - say, a banana.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?