How to Use Reality Checks to Have Lucid Dreams

Reality checking is an easy lucid dreaming technique designed to increase your self awareness by day and penetrate your dreams by night.

When combined with other lucid dream exercises, reality checks can supercharge your efforts. Or they can produce lucid dreams in their own right, simply by creating a mental habit of reality testing.

The Melting Clock Reality Check

What Are Reality Checks?

To learn lucid dreaming, you must be able to spot the difference between a dream and waking reality.

Normally when you dream, you accept it as real life. It's only when you wake up that you realize something was strange.

By integrating reality checks into your waking life, you will soon do them in your dreams. This will snap your conscious mind to realizing: "I'm dreaming!"

What Makes a Good Reality Check?

What makes a consistently reliable reality check that works in the surreal, illogical nature of the dream world? Let's think this through for a moment.

How do you know that you are awake right now? You might say:

  • Because I can see
  • Because I can feel
  • Because I am aware
  • Because I just am!

Unfortunately, this all applies to the dream world too. That's why seeing, feeling, awareness and knowledge of your existence do not help you become lucid. (Remember that your dreaming mind lacks clarity of thought and can't draw the same logical conclusions as your waking mind.)

In order to recognize when you're dreaming, you need to spark that "Eureka!" moment of realization with a definitive test:

  1. A simple question, and
  2. An "impossible" pre-determined action.

How to Do a Reality Check and Become Lucid

My preferred reality check is pushing two fingers from my right hand into the palm of my left hand and willing them to pass straight through.

In waking life, this discreet method always yields the same resistance. In a dream, willing my fingers to pass through my palm causes it to happen 90% of the time.

Then I know... I'm dreaming.

Upon this realization, my conscious brain ignites. My environment surges into focus and I have a real sense of who I am, where I am, and what I want to do next.

(To learn more about the sensations of lucidity, see What Do Lucid Dreams Feel Like?)

"Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, flittering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly ...suddenly I awoke... Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man."

~ Chuang-tzu

When I practice this technique during the day time, the action of trying to push my fingers through my palms is not enough on its own.

I also need to ask the question "Am I dreaming?" and truly mean it.

I need to look around my environment every time I do a reality check, and consider "Is this real?"

At this point, I like to question the solidity of my surroundings.

For instance, I might look at a cup on my desk and wonder does that really exist or am I imagining it? Does it go away when I stop looking at it?

How about the air - can I see the air? Is it warm, cold, dense, sparse, colorful, invisible? This is how you build self awareness: questioning your own feelings and perceptions in the moment by experimenting with their reality.

Perform your chosen reality check a dozen times a day (you can leave notes and make memory cues to remind yourself) and allow each check to take anything from a few seconds to few minutes.

Be sure to come to a well-informed decision each time. Don't just ask the question and forget about it. Truly mean what you say, and reach a conclusion.

Soon you will ask this question in a dream.

Bingo. Your mind will be jogged into critical thinking mode and you'll conclude that you're dreaming. Lucidity awaits.

Top 10 Reality Checks for Lucid Dreams

Use the finger and palm check if you like, or try out these other reality tests:

  1. Breathe - Can you hold your nose and mouth shut and breathe?
  2. Jump - When you jump, do you float back down?
  3. Read - Can you read a sentence twice without it changing?
  4. Look - Is your vision clearer or blurrier than normal?
  5. Hand - Can you push hand through a solid surface?
  6. Time - Can you read a clock face or digital watch?
  7. Fly - Can you will yourself to fly or hover above the ground?
  8. Palms - Do the palms of your hands look normal close-up?
  9. Mirrors - Does your reflection look normal in the mirror?
  10. Math - Can you add up two numbers for a correct answer?

For good measure, perform two reality checks each time. If the first one doesn't work for any reason, you have a fail-safe. I combine fingers with the palm check.

Sometimes I try to push my hand through the desk or wall. It is a wonderful feeling when you actually can push your hand through a solid object in a lucid dream. Your lucidity makes this feel real - and, naturally, very weird.

Edge of Perception by Eon Works

Why Build Self Awareness?

Your brain creates neural constructs based experiential learning: patterns of thinking based on your real life experiences.

For instance, since you have had the experience of gravity your whole life, you don't need to repeatedly question it. You simply know that you can't float or take off.

And so most adults mosey on through life without ever questioning the world around us. We know that the sky is blue, that we can't control objects with our minds, and that walls are too solid to walk through. We become so accustomed to our reality we forget to question it. And this applies in the dream world too.

However, if you do decide to question your reality on a regular basis, it increases your level of self awareness in the real world. It pulls your consciousness into the moment. And when this becomes second nature in waking life, it will become second nature in dreams too.

And this is a direct line to lucid dreams.

Permanently improving your self awareness doesn't happen overnight. But it's a fast learning curve. A beginner's progress could well be exponential.

So pay attention to your surroundings. Study them in detail. And most importantly, question their nature.

Do your hands belong to you?

How would it look if you had 12 fingers?

Can imagine them melting into the furniture?

Have fun with visualizations and tricks of the mind. You're aiming to edit programming that has been in place for decades...

Troubleshooting Reality Checks

As this is a very popular lucid dreaming technique, I get a lot of questions about how to do reality checks and why they don't always work. I've summarized the most common questions and answers below:

How can I remember to do more reality checks each day?

Reality CheckSet up triggers that remind you to perform a reality check, such as a note on your computer screen, telephone, bathroom tap, schoolbooks, or write an L for lucid on the back of your hand.

You can also mentally set up trigger points that relate to your day. Do a reality check every time you walk up or down stairs, hear your digital watch beep, receive a text message, unlock a door, hang up the phone, and so on.

I've been doing reality checks all week but haven't had any lucid dreams. What am I doing wrong?

First, ensure you're doing your checks mindfully and coming to a reason-based conclusion every time. Every check should hold real personal perspective.

Second, make sure you're keeping a dream journal and recording at least one dream per night. You may well have performed a reality check in a dream (and even become lucid) but just didn't remember it!

Third, combine reality checks with other lucid dreaming techniques, such as meditation and dream incubation. Even consider lucid dreaming pills. They all work well in combination.

Fourth, be patient. You are entraining a new habit into your daily life and it may take days or weeks for it to filter through to your dream life. Rest assured, like most of our daily habits, you will dream about it eventually.

I did a reality check in a dream but it didn't work, I just kept on dreaming. Why did this happen?

The most likely explanation is that you're not performing your waking reality checks with enough mindfulness. When you attempt the impossible action, make sure you're really trying to do it and not just kidding yourself. And when you ask the question - "Am I dreaming?" - be sure to truly ponder that concept. Imagine what a dream feels like, what you would do if you were dreaming right now, and then snap yourself back into reality to compare the feeling.

Occasionally a reality check fails through no fault of your own. You may simply be having a vivid dream that is all too normal to accept as a dream. It's a weird mind space, and particularly common in false awakenings (which is why you should do a reality check every time you wake up).

The best solution is to perform a second reality check as a fail-safe. If you still can't validate your dream state, but have some basic level of dream control, then simply explore the dream until it gives itself away. Something irregular will eventually pop up if you keep pulling at the thread. Full lucidity will ensue.

About The Author

About the author

Rebecca Turner is a science writer, illustrator, explorer of consciousness - and founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a biology degree in Auckland and blogging at her site Science Me.