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Wait… is this a dream?

We all know sleep is vital for our mental and physical wellbeing. However, as an ambitious and dedicated entrepreneur, do you sometimes find yourself lamenting that you have little choice but to dedicate around a third of your day—of your life—to this unconscious state? Wouldn’t you like to find a way to maintain a level of productivity while you sleep? Instead of your dreams being made of nonsensical images and unlikely plots, how about being inspired by them?

Welcome to the otherworld of lucid dreaming.

Humans have long been contemplating the nature of dreams and the possibility of unlocking their latent power. Aristotle wrote about it. Buddhist monks explore lucid dreaming states brought on by meditation. In the 4th century BC, Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wrote about a lucid dream he had that made him question not only the nature of reality, but our powers of transformation:

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I waked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do now know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

A lucid dream is a dream in which you are fully aware that you are dreaming. It is an unusual place because in our normal dream state, the ‘aware’ part of our consciousness is dormant. It’s the reason why the most absurd things can occur in dreams but at the time they seem regular. We simply do not have the capacity to question the reality or non-reality of what is happening.

But what if we can? Will the secret workings of our subconscious—the seat of all great ideas—be more easily revealed to us? Could lucid dreaming make us more fearless and more prepared? Could it give us an advantage in business? Historical and scientific evidence says yes.

Man floating off his bed.
Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Unlocking the mind

In the world of lucid dreaming, the phrase “Sleep on it” can be very powerful. Scientists and psychologists now know that dreams are potentially not just the result of some random neurological sparking, but rather a form of ongoing thought. When set loose from the obligations of its ‘wakened state’, i.e. having to consider, think about and process just about every stimuli coming at it every second of the day, the mind is apt to start solving what seemed unsolvable and sprouting ideas that struggle to surface above the noise of every day waking life.

You might be surprised at the number of great ideas that have surfaced in lucid dreams:

  • Einstein—Theory of relativity
  • Niels Bohr—The structure of the atom
  • Dmitri Mendeleev—Periodic table of elements
  • Srinivasa Ramanujan—Many of his mathematical theories, including the infinite series for Pi
  • Otto Loewi—Nerve impulses
  • August Kekulé—Benzene atom
  • Elias Howe—Invention of the sewing machine
  • Paul McCartney—Melody for ‘Yesterday’

No longer confined to the realm of hippiedom or pseudoscience, lucid dreaming has become such a ‘thing’ that Stanford University has a team of scientists—headed by ‘the godfather’ of lucid dreaming Stephen LaBerge—dedicated to studying it. The web is awash with websites offering lucid dreaming courses and retreats, and there are myriad lucid dreaming apps on the App Store. Some companies have developed ‘lucid dreaming masks’, which resemble virtual reality goggles that intermittently flash a light during REM sleep to remind you you’re wearing the mask and therefore alert you to the fact you’re dreaming.

In 2013 Tim Post, lucid dreaming researcher and founder of lucid dreaming resource Snoozon, gave a TEDx talk about lucid dreaming.

“The merging science of lucid dreaming has generated evidence to suggest that lucid dreaming can be used as an incredibly valuable tool to enhance psychological development,” he said. “[Scientists] are now invested into various research areas like mental rehearsal and creative problem solving… how we can make use of the creative nature of or REM sleep dreams to come to new ideas, visualise a business solution or rehearse and develop a presentation.”

Portrait of Albert Einstein.
Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity from a lucid dream.
Photo by Jackie Ramirez on Pixabay

In a 2018 podcast, Martin Martinez, Managing Director for the Founder Institute Texas and Founder and President of creative brand and events company, A-Player Media, talks at length about lucid dreaming and refers to it as an ‘entrepreneur hack’.

“When I was trying to start A-Player Media I had a really chaotic dream where I saw my late grandmother. I was going through the tumult of trying to figure out what the next step is on the entrepreneurial journey. I must have manifested her in the dream because I needed advice from someone I trusted, and she appeared and told me I could get through it but I was the only one who could do it and it had to be of my own design. And I basically woke up and furiously started writing (which led to the solution).”

Tim Ferriss, who you might know best as author of ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ has blogged extensively about his experiences with lucid dreaming.

Aside from its business and creative applications, sleep scientists are experimenting with lucid dreaming’s potential to increase performance, focus and recovery in athletes. And speaking of recovery, a 2014 paper by Doctor Mauro Zappaterra at the VA hospital in Los Angeles details the case of a man who had suffered from 22 years of chronic pain curing himself with a single lucid dream. Psychologists are already utilising lucid dreaming to treat phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The merging science of lucid dreaming suggests that it can be used as an incredibly valuable tool to enhance psychological development.”

How can I do it?

Though most people report to have had at least one lucid dream in their lifetime (usually it’s the flying dream—flying is the one thing our dream brains recognise as being impossible), inducing one, never mind several, takes dedication and work, which of course is not something you shy away from. So here are some techniques you can use to slip into a waking dream:

  • Keep a dream diary—dream recall is very important as it trains your brain to recognise when it’s dreaming.
  • Do reality checks throughout the day—Ask yourself ‘Am I dreaming?’ Check to see that you know how you got to wherever you are, ask yourself the date and time. Look at the digital time on your phone, then look away and check it again—have the numbers gone weird or are they stable? See if you’re able to hover off the ground. Repeatedly doing these ‘reality checks’ will hopefully encourage you to try one in a dream and when you realise you CAN hover off the ground… voilà—you’ll awake to the fact you’re dreaming.
  • Decide on a ‘dream symbol’—We’re able to alert ourselves we’re dreaming if we know what to look for. As you fall asleep decide on something—an object, a person, an animal—that, if it appears in your dream, will remind you that you’re dreaming.
  • Here’s one that takes serious dedication but is very effective—set your alarm for three hours after you’ve fallen asleep. This means you’ll likely be in REM sleep and thus wake up from a dream. Get out of bed and walk around the house for fifteen minutes, all the while thinking about the dream you just had and telling yourself that when you go back to sleep you’ll slip back into the dream but this time you’ll be aware that you’re dreaming. Go back to bed and wait.

Start slipping one or more of these techniques into your daily waking life and you are pretty much guaranteed to have a lucid dream at some point. Just be aware that it can take time. Some people are lucky and are perhaps more ‘natural’ lucid dreamers and therefore plunge into the lucid dream world quite soon after trying. Most take longer—up to a few months—before they finally find themselves awake inside a dream.

What will you do when you find yourself there?

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