Have you ever had a dream where you felt like you were trying to tell yourself something? As if there was a message you knew if you could decipher, it would change the way you live your life?
Knowing when you are dreaming is difficult, and remembering your dreams can be a challenge within itself. However, what if you could improve your life through your dreams?
Intrigued? Well, today you are going to discover how keeping a dream journal can change your life by changing your mindset.
Dreams and Your Mental Growth
There are studies that highlight the link between your dreams and your mental development. While some of the research is in its early stages, there is conclusive evidence to support the statement that dreams and cognitive development are linked for adults.
For example, there are several emotional aspects of your dreams that may speak to your ability to cope and emotionally process information.
Based on these conclusions, some studies have started examining the dreams of children to see if the same cognitive growth can be found.((Piroska Sándor, Sára Szakadát, Róbert Bódizs: The Development of Cognitive and Emotional Processing as Reflected in Children’s Dreams: Active Self in an Eventful Dream Signals Better Neuropsychological Skills
)) Each morning, the researchers would interview the children by asking them a series of questions. The researchers would then categorize each dream based on the experience, theme, and emotions the dreamer experienced.
The research supported a link that the more effective of a person’s “executive control” in their waking life, the “stronger their presence is in dreams (manifested in activities, interactions, self-effectiveness, willful effort and cognitive reflections).”
In a nutshell, the skill-sets you develop while awake, will be measurably stronger in your dreams. By tracking your dreams, you will be able to recognize traits, emotions, and actions that you would like to change. If you act timid around your supervisor or family member in your dream, take a moment to recognize if you act the same way in awake.
As you begin to understand the fears and self-doubts you experience around that person, you can take action to change those beliefs awake. As you adjust your actions while awake, you should begin to notice changes in your dream-self.
This is because your dreams are magnifying your awake experiences, so what is subtle awake is unavoidable asleep.
When a Dream Feels More like a Nightmare
The majority of people across the world experience disturbing dreams and nightmares after experiencing a traumatic event. These nightmares can be commonplace in the victim’s life for years, if not decades later.
Associations have been found between nightmares and “significant sleep loss, nocturnal awakenings, daytime distress, and impaired functioning”.
While dreams are not replications of real life, they have been found to use the “emotional life of the previous day” as a “guiding role in the selection of the events and experiences appearing in dreams.”((University of Tampere: Posttraumatic Nightmares of Traumatized Refugees: Dream Work Integrating Cultural Values
Another way to phrase this is that dreams have been shown to play a role in how you emotionally process information. By keeping track of your dreams and your overall mood and theme, you allow yourself to be better aware of how you processed parts of your day.
Even if you suppress your experiences when awake, they will come bursting out of your subconscious when asleep. If you desire to improve your mindset, you need to address the experiences that shape your dreams.
That is why it is a good idea to keep a journal of all of your emotional experiences. Whether you are awake or sleep, if you track and record your emotional experiences, you will notice a cause and effect.
Dreams Shape Your Reality
Have you ever found yourself crying while watching a movie? If not crying, have you ever found yourself jubilant because a particular character asked that special someone on a date?
One of the most interesting things about your mind is the fact that your conscious mind cannot tell the difference between dream and reality.
That is why you may find yourself experiencing strong emotions throughout a movie; even though you know those experiences are not really happening.
This ultimately means your dreams play a role in how you experience the world as a whole. Within your subconscious, all of your experiences, both real and imagery are stored.((NBC News: How the brain turns reality into dreams
)) These experiences then shape your perception of the world around you.
Think about the last time you felt déjà vu because of a dream becoming eerily close to reality. It felt as though you were performing the same task for a second time, even though you knew it was the first opportunity you had to perform the task.
How to Start Your Dream Journal
1. Start with Your Earliest Dreams
When you start your dream journal, you do not need to start with the dreams you have tonight. You can retroactively add any dreams you can remember.
As you work to develop the themes and feelings of your dreams, see if you can recall dreams from your childhood.
Note how you felt, where you were physically sleeping, what time you usually went to bed, and what the dream entailed. By starting with your childhood dreams, you may be able to recognize small mindset shifts you experienced over time.
You may have experienced care-free dreams where you were always the hero when you were in your adolescence. However, those dreams may have transformed into you being chased or attacked as you dealt with the pressures of being a teenager.
Your dreams are often a reflection of your life experiences, so everything has the ability to impact your dreams.
2. Question Yourself
Your mindset awake and your mindset asleep
share many commonalities. By allowing yourself to consciously track and study your dreams, you will learn a tremendous amount about your beliefs.
Psychotherapists and cognitive psychotherapists both help their patients deal with traumatic experiences by working with their dreams. Dreams have been shown to provide information on relationship patterns, personal conflicts, and salient issues in the waking life of the client.
The technique the therapist will use that you can use yourself is to examine the emotions you felt during your dream through open-ended questions. This will allow you to explore yourself in a much deeper way than you may have in the past. Through open-ended questions you can examine the associations, elements of the dream, and your areas of possible development.
By asking yourself open-ended questions, you free yourself of the burden of “interpreting” your dream's rational message. Instead, you allow yourself to experience the dream’s emotions and uniqueness.
For example, I recall having a dream where I was in a car with my dad in the passenger seat. We were in the car because I was attempting to escape my captors. Throughout the dream, I was not sure why my dad was next to me. The kidnappers were not chasing him, nor were they shooting at him.
The dream ends with me believing I have found the perfect hiding place. I backed the car almost vertically against a stone pillar, believing I was out of sight. Then out of no-where, I am shot through the car in my upper left chest area. Just before I wake up, I recall my dad saying a simple phrase to me. He said, “you need to cut back on the mistakes”.
I wake up and I am left to wonder what my dad meant by the statement, “you need to cut back on the mistakes”.
As someone who does not remember their dreams very often, this message of almost a year ago stuck with me. I did not worry about trying to rationalize the dream as a whole, instead, I focused on the feeling of failure and disappointment.
I was mad at myself for not picking a better hiding place, disappointed that I let me dad down, and frustrated by the life I lived up to that point.
The frustration stemmed mostly from me allowing fear and self-doubt to discourage me from pursing new challenges. Like the saying goes, I was dying with a song inside of me that I had not yet sang.
As you can see, I have had a lot of time to flush out this dream and really understand the emotions behind it. If you are looking to better understand your dreams so you can change your mindset, then ask yourself these four open-questions recommended by Dr. Kelly Bulkeley:
- What is the strangest, most bizarre part of this dream?
- Who are the characters, and how do you interact with them?
- What emotions appear in this dream, and when do they arise?
- What kind of reality is revealed to you in this dream?
By answering these four-questions within your dream journal, you will be well-equipped to understand the message of your dream and how to improve your mindset.
In my case, my dream revealed the reality that I was living timid and wasting a lot of time worried about the wrong things. My dream was less of a message about me being choosing a poor hiding spot, and more of a message of me dying with a song trapped inside.
Your dreams are closely linked to your cognitive functions, emotions, and experiences while awake.
By keeping a dream journal, you allow yourself to notice emotions and feelings that may not be as apparent when you are awake. As you chronicle your dreams, make sure you focus on the feelings, not the rationale.
Write down everything you can remember from the dream each morning, how long you were sleeping, and where you were sleeping. You may also find it beneficial to record some of the experiences you had the previous day that could have contributed to the dream.
These techniques will enable you better find the catalyst for your dream, and ultimately make the proper correction to change your mindset.
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