For many beginners, understanding exactly how to become lucid in dreams is a major hurdle. Until you have your first lucid dream, the mechanism may seem elusive, causing people to give up before they've begun. So I thought it would be helpful to define how I trigger my lucid dreams.
Below are five different ways to have a lucid dream tonight. Some of these methods are more likely to occur than others. However, with experience, you will learn to use all of them as gateways to your lucid dream world.
This is the most common kind of lucid dream in beginners. In fact, your first lucid dream was probably caused by spontaneously lucidity. This occurs when you suddenly realize "I'm dreaming!" for no apparent reason. Or perhaps your dream became so strange (or in the case of a nightmare, so horrifying) that your conscious self-awareness kicked in.
Spontaneous lucidity can rely on luck. However, by increasing your self-awareness during the day time you can train yourself to recognize the dream state better, and thereby learn how to become lucid in dreams with ease. Through regular meditation and lucid dreaming, I have become a lot more self-aware, and this helps me recognize the dream state when anything strange happens.
Psychological research into lucid dreaming suggests that dream characters are part of your subconscious psyche. So this method also relies on your subconscious mind to trigger your lucidity, in a most poetic way.
It can be spontaneous, or you can program your subconscious mind before you go to sleep. I often set the intention to lucid dream by meditating before I go to sleep and firmly telling my subconscious "I will lucid dream tonight". If I wake up in the night I will repeat my intention as I fall back to sleep.
This makes it all the more likely that I'll dream about lucid dreaming, and sometimes this recognition comes directly from a dream character. For example, I once dreamed about giving a lecture about lucid dreaming, but this failed to trigger my self-awareness. At the end of the talk, a psychology professor came up to me and said "Let's try some lucid dreaming now." It worked! The dream character triggered my conscious self-awareness into action and I became lucid.
This is similar to the concept described above - plant the seed in your subconscious mind by practicing lucid dream incubation before you go to sleep. You may plan your dream in advance (setting up dream themes such as a zombie apocalype or something equally as stimulating!) or simply plant the autosuggestion "I will lucid dream tonight" while becoming deeply relaxed.
Sometimes, you'll find you start dreaming about the same theme you had in mind before going to sleep. This is exactly how horror movies beget nightmares. Your waking experiences and day dreams make such an impression that they reappear in your dreams the same night. And because you have attached this theme with becoming lucid, it's a lot easier to trigger spontaneous in-dream lucidity.
You can even program your dream theme about lucid dreaming itself. An example of this at work is when I dreamed of being in a movie theatre. As the credits rolled up, I saw a string of incomprehensible letters (the written word is often scrambled in non-lucid dreams). Then something clicked in my head - and I realized that the letters were an anagram of "LUCID" with a few random letters thrown in. BAM!
This approach is great for your first lucid dream and is widely seen as one of the easiest lucid dreaming techniques. Reality checks program self-awareness into your dreams through repetition, thereby creating spontaneous lucidity.
A reality check simply means trying to do something impossible in the real world - like pushing your hand through a wall. When you do this during the day, of course, nothing exceptional will happen. But do it habitually and it will soon occur in your dreams too. In the bizarre dream world, your hand will often slip through the wall (especially if you will and expect it to as part of your reality check mindset) giving you the opportunity to become lucid. Your reality check should always ask "Am I dreaming?"
The more you enhance your meditation and self-awareness skills, the easier it is to have your first Wake Induced Lucid Dream (WILD). So far, all the techniques above are classed as Dream Induced Lucid Dreams, which mean you become lucid from within a non-lucid dream state. With this method, you can walk your conscious mind directly into a lucid dream from a conscious waking state.
Many people have told me they developed their own version of the WILD technique as a child, slipping into fantastical lucid dreams of their own choosing every night. However, it doesn't come naturally to everyone, and achieving your first WILD can be difficult at first. Ultimately, you just have to prime yourself and be patient.
My Wake Induced Lucid Dreams happen most often after 4-6 hours of sleep, once my REM periods are well-established. I slip back to sleep while remaining highly focused on a visualization, which rapidly evolves into the dream state. What starts as a waking fantasy becomes a highly vivid lucid dream. For a detailed step-by-step breakdown of how this works, see my Wake Induced Lucid Dreams tutorial.