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Dreams can provide extraordinary insights into improving all aspects of your life. Psychiatrist Judith Orloff shares her techniques for gaining valuable advice from dreams.

Science magazine reports that sleeping on something, or “unconscious thought,” can result in smarter decisions than overthinking—especially with important choices. For instance, if you’re going crazy analyzing the pros and cons of a relationship, it won’t get you very far. Rather, when you think less and sleep on the dilemma, you give your subconscious an opportunity to solve the problem.

I subscribe to the “sleep on it” school of decision-making, which involves drawing on the wisdom of dreams. Why do we dream? To find answers, resolve emotional conflicts, and discharge negativity. Also, to stabilize our biochemistry and mood. But, to me, another interesting question is, “Why do we wake up?"

Native American and Aboriginal cultures revere dream-time over waking life—they base tribal law on information obtained there. The Maoris believe that when we die, we return to the dream world. Kalahari Bushmen say, “There is a dream and it is dreaming us.” 

In your own life, your dreams can contain advice that goes beyond the Annals of Internal Medicine. I recommend the following strategies to remember your dreams.

5 Strategies to Remember Dreams 

1. Keep a dream journal and pen by your bed.

2. Write a question (just one!) in the journal before sleep.

3. Wake up slowly. In the morning, spend some quiet moments remembering your dream. Luxuriate in a peaceful feeling between sleep and waking, what’s called the “hypnagogic state.” Those initial moments provide a doorway.

4. Record your dream immediately—otherwise it will evaporate. You may recall a face, object, color, scenario, or feel an emotion. It doesn't matter if it makes perfect sense. Do not censor anything. Nothing is too “strange” or “weird.”

5. See how the dream answers your question. Act on this answer and see if your life improves.

Try this every day for a week. Keep at it. You are programming your subconscious to remember. Soon it will become second nature to you.

A Guide to Intepreting Common Psychological Dreams

How do you interpret dreams? One key to is to notice the most highly-charged emotion in the dream—for instance, anger, fear, or joy. Next ask yourself, “Where in my life am I feeling these emotions?” Then, consider how you can heal the situation or else celebrate a success. In addition, here are some common dreams and their interpretations.

Dreams about your fears, anxieties, and insecurities.

You’re standing buck naked in front of a group of people who are pointing at you.
Meaning: You feel exposed, vulnerable, and unsafe about a situation.

You’re taking a test and panic that you don’t know the answers.
Meaning: You feel unprepared to meet a challenge or solve an emotional dilemma.

You’re being chased by a horrifying pursuer.
Meaning: You’re trying to escape a scary person or emotion (past or present) instead of facing it.  

You lose your wallet and are stranded without credit cards or cash.
Meaning: You’re afraid you’re without the emotional resources to cope with one or more aspects of your life.

Your teeth fall out, crack, or decay.
Meaning: You feel that a source of power has been taken away in your life; you can’t bite back or assert your needs in a situation. Also you may experience a lack of energy or nurturing from others. (Without strong teeth, it’s hard to chew food and assimilate the nutrients necessary for vitality).

You’re wandering around lost, unable to find your way home.
Meaning: You lack a sense of inner or outer direction. You don’t know how to get back on track with a situation or relationship and don’t feel emotionally supported.

Dreams affirming your strengths, emotional achievements, and largeness of spirit.

You’re able to fly, a natural, joyous feeling.
Meaning: You’re empowered, creative, and unfettered by the drag of negativity.

You triumph over impossible odds—there is a flood, landslide, or a war and you survive.
Meaning: You have the courage, strength, and heart to overcome difficult emotional obstacles.

You give birth or watch someone give birth.
Meaning: You’re coming into your own, thriving. It’s a time of new beginnings for relationships, career, or revitalizing health and emotions.

You feel vibrant, eating (not overeating) a delicious meal in good company.
Meaning: You’re nourishing yourself emotionally and others are nourishing you.

You’re getting married or celebrating someone else’s wedding
Meaning: You’re becoming whole! Your physical, emotional, and spiritual sides are becoming integrated. You’re ready for more of an emotional commitment to yourself, your work, or another person.

Dreams let you pinpoint an emotional conflict, so you can solve it. For instance, if you’re standing naked before a group of jeering coworkers, ask yourself, “Might I have feelings of being exposed or berated at work?” Then take steps to feel more protected in that environment.

Or if, in a dream, you’re wandering aimlessly, consider, “Where am I lost in my life, and how can I find my way?” Also, it’s crucial to honor the messages of encouragement dreams send. Emotional freedom comes from removing blocks as well as acknowledging your own clarity and power. 

Adapted from Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life by Judith Orloff. Copyright © 2009 by Three Rivers Press.

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