Problem-Solving While Dreaming

How to Problem-Solve in Your Dreams

Your dreams are “written” in your own private vocabulary; that’s why their menaing is often unclear (and why dream books you buy at the corner newsstand won’t explain your own visions). Moreover, the language of dreams is sensory and visual, whereareas the language of daily life is verbal. You need to translate a dream much as you would a foreign language.

Unfortunately, the same force s that make us disguise problems in our dreams are likely to hinder our recognizing them whne we’re awake. Even Freud had trouble with self-analysis. So an impartial listener – atrained therapist – can help. “It’s a collaborative process,” says New York psychoanalyst Walter Bonime, author of the classic text, THE CLINICAL USE OF DREAMS (Da Capo Press, $29.50)

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore your dreams alone or with a partner. People who keep dream journals say that over time, patterns often emerge.

To put your dreams to work solving problems, try this routine:

  • Program yourself to wake up after every REM period. I did it while writing this article simply by telling myself I wanted to at bedtime. But don’t make it a regular habit. “The ability to maintain consciousness during sleep can backfire,” says Dr. Neil Kavey, director of the Columbia-Presbyterian sleep lab. “If you can’t shut it off, you may have trouble remaining asleep, or you may sleep so poorly that you feel you didn’t sleep at all.”
  • Put a notebook and pen or tape recorder at your bedside.
  • At bedtime, select a problem and sum it up with a question, such as “Should I take this new job?” Write it down and list possible solutions.
  • Turn off the lights and reflect on these solutions. Stick with it until you drift off to sleep.
  • When you wake up – during the night or in the morning – lie still. To jog your memory, pretend you’re a detective interviewing an eyewitness. What’s the last thingyou remember? Before that? Going backward can help you more easily reconstruct a dream.
  • Write down or tape record all that you remember. Do it before you shower and have breakfast.
  • If you have trouble catching dreams, try sleeping late on weekends The longest dreams occur in the last part of sleep and many of us cut sleep short on week nights.

Once you’ve recorder your dream, how do you decode it? Tell it to yourself in the third person, suggest psychologist Lillie Weiss in DREAM ANALYSIS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY (Pergamon Press, $11.95). This may give you some distance from the dream and help you see the actions more clearly. Then look at the part of the dream that is the most mysterious. “Frequently the most incongruous part provides the dream message,” Weiss says.

In her dream-therapy study, Cartwright asks participants to examine and try to change repetitive, troublesome dreams along seven dimensions:

  • Time orientation. Do all your dreams take place in the past? Try positioning them in the present or future.
  • Competence to affect the outcome. Try finding a positive way to resolve a dream.
  • Self-blame. In yor dreams, do you hold yourself responsible when things go wrong? Must you?
  • Relation to former role: If your divorced, do you still dream of yourself as married? If you have lost your job, do you still see yourself at work? Consider alternatives.
  • Motivation. Do you dream of being nurtured? Can you think of a way to take care of yourself?
  • Mood. What would make a dream more pleasant?
  • Dream roles: Do you like the part you play in your dreams? What role would you prefer?