New Year is a wonderful time of self-reflection. For many, it is the chance to take a moment to think about what we want from life, how happy we are with ourselves and what we want to change. Of course, this kind of reflection also often leads to resolutions. Working with dreams is also an intensely self-reflective process, but all the reflection in the world is no good unless it is followed up with action. This is precisely what dream work is about – taking the time to reflect, to learn, and then put this new knowledge into action. So how can dreams help us keep those resolutions and make this year one to say “we did it”, rather than come around the same time next year with an all too familiar list of resolutions to try to keep all over again?
Here is my top ten list of tips for how to make those resolutions stick, and to bring those “dreams” we have “to life.”
1. Don’t stop reflecting once the new year date is over: We often stop just once a year to think about ourselves, what motivates us, what we really want, what we are afraid of and what holds us back. This is a great first step, but to really make our resolutions stick, we need to keep paying attention to what is going on inside us. To really understand ourselves better, we need to keep up this process all year long. Paying attention regularly to how we feel and what is going on inside us will help us recognise early on when we are feeling the temptation to give up, when we have conflicting desires and aims. It may be tricky to find the time every day, so try to schedule in at least one hour every week, maybe a Sunday before the new week starts, to stop and think. We should ask ourselves, “how am I feeling? what is working for me now and what challenges am I facing?” Being conscious of these small changes in our mood and commitment will help keep us on track.
2. Write your dreams down: if you aren’t already doing this, this is one of the key ways to start noticing what is going on in our subconscious. You don’t have to write to every single detail or analyse every single dream, but starting to pay attention to our dreams and recording them can prove helpful when we need to look back later and understand what was happening in our subconscious mind, even if it didn’t seem important at the time.
3. Look for signs of conflict in your dreams: conflict in dreams can tell us a lot about the “battles raging within us.” When we set resolutions, we are attempting to change a pattern of behaviour or belief that we have held for some time. We can force these changes on the outside, but only when we truly accept them at our deepest level will change really happen in our lives. Conflict in dreams will show us what we are “fighting” against on a symbolic level, and help us make longer lasting, meaningful change in our lives. Are you trying to give up a certain food and dream of fighting a wild animal? This could be a sign of trying to exert your control over your desire, like a hungry beast that needs to be tamed. Are you trying to spend more time with the family, and dream of being trapped in a cage? This could be a sign you feel your work is restricting your freedom, and you need to find a way to escape.
4. Look for clues to help you win in your dreams: just as our dreams can symbolically play out the battle going on inside us to keep our resolutions, so too can they show clues that will help us triumph in waking life. Once you have recognised the conflict that is occurring inside you, pay attention to how this conflict plays out in your dreams. If you don’t win at first, that’s ok, this is representative of your subconscious trying to absorb the goals your conscious mind is sending it. But as you stay committed, or have small successes, your subconscious mind will seize on these and incorporate them into your dream. The trick is to understand your own symbols and realise what your dreams are telling you. If you are dieting and dreamed of a wolf attacking you, maybe you notice that the wolf always bites your right hand. Maybe if you start eating with your left hand in waking life, this will force you to eat slower, helping you to enjoy your food and making you feel full sooner so you eat less. Or maybe you beat the wolf by drowning it. This could mean you decide to drink water instead of snacking on unhealthy foods, or that you take up swimming so the exercise lets you eat some of the foods you still like, or maybe your realise the water represents your emotions, and you eat when depressed, so this awareness can help you stop comfort eating. Or you may decide all 3 things are relevant! It is up to you to recognise what your own symbols may mean to you, and what is helpful. (Looking around this blog may help to decipher some of those symbols.)
5. Look for signs of new beginnings: our dreams can help encourage us and let us know when we are on the right path. We may feel despondent and want to give up in waking life, but our dreams can give us symbols of hope, that if we recognise them, we can use for motivation to keep going in our waking life. Good symbols of new beginnings might be a baby appearing in the dream, planting seeds, picking flowers or harvesting, walking through a door, passage way or path into a new room or clearing, discovering new rooms in the house or finding a magical or powerful object in the dream. All these things can be significant signs that the change we are struggling with while awake is taking a deep-rooted effect in our subconscious, and if we persist, may be the lasting change we seek.
6. Look for allies and friends in our dreams: when we make a commitment to change in our life, we effectively change the course of our destiny by taking our life, consciously, into our hands. We decide to break the patterns of habit, or the lessons we learned from the past that no longer serve us. At times such as these it can feel like we are all alone, stepping into a new territory that we don’t understand, like we are walking into a new world where we don’t know the rules. At such times, when we are at our most vulnerable, but are also acting with bravery and exerting our will, our subconscious will often call on help to guide us and reassure us through uncertain times. If you have made a new year’s resolution that requires great effort to keep, look out for friendly figures who appear in your dreams to help you on your way. Like an explorer at the start of a great adventure, you may be visited in your dreams by a wise elder, talking animals, beautiful mysterious people, an innocent child. You may even see long lost friends or departed loved ones who come to offer support and advice. Pay attention to what they say, it can be very helpful. And even if they don’t say anything particularly wise, rest assured that their very presence is encouragement that the life path you are starting is worth continuing along. And that surely should be motivating!
7. Ask our dreams to help us: it may seem a strange suggestion, but consider the phrase “sleep on it.” Our subconscious mind is great at finding patterns, making connections, drawing on resources and in general helping us to solve problems that we grapple with while awake. If keeping your resolution seems difficult, try asking your dreams for help. Focus on a clear question such as “what do I need to do to avoid snacking between meals” or “how can I schedule my time better so I have an hour to read my son a bedtime story?” and then either write this question down and read it before sleep, or just focus on it as you go to bed. Ask your dreams to provide an answer. You will be surprised what comes up in your dreams when you do! Again, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen straight away. If you haven’ communicated with your subconscious in a while, it may take a while for it to recognise you are trying to reach it. But with time and patience, it should.
8. Let your dreams be wish fulfillment: many of our new year’s resolutions are about giving something up. It may be cigarettes, chocolate or an unhealthy relationship. While many of our dreams may be symbolic signs of reassurance or give us insight into our deeper conflicts and help find ways to resolve them, sometimes we just have full-on fantasy dreams about the thing we are most trying to avoid. We may have dreams of indulging in a giant chocolate cake, finding a pack of cigarettes hidden in the drawer and enjoying that secret smoke, or running back to our troubled love who welcomes us with a kindness and intimacy we rarely experienced in waking life. The first thing to realise is this is completely natural! And there is no reason to feel guilty about it. One of the reasons resolutions are so hard to keep is that we are programmed at a subconscious level to keep doing the very thing we want to change. Setting a resolution means asserting your conscious mind over your subconscious mind. It will fight back! Be prepared for this, recognise it when it happens, it means that change is not too far away. Break through this barrier and it will get easier. And in the meantime, tell yourself there is no need to act out your desire in waking life as you have already done it once in your dreams!
9. Enjoy your dreams as escape: all this reflecting and analysing and discipline can get a bit tiresome. If you are exerting your will frequently in waking life, don’t be afraid to kick back and enjoy your dreams as a bit of time off. Not every dream has to be about deep internal change. Let yourself off the hook from time to time, and enjoy your dreams. Look out for dreams of flying, swimming or running with great freedom, dreams of beautiful places, nature or exciting journeys. These kind of dreams remind you why you are going through this process – and it is a process, that once you have achieved your goals there is great satisfaction and enjoyment in life to be had. By focussing on the struggle all the time, it easy to forget the reward. Let you dreams remind you of the fun and freedom life can have, and carry this happiness with you through-out the day.
10. Sleep – and don’t feel guilty! : no, not strictly about dreams, but without sleep, we can neither dream nor have the energy to exert our will in keeping resolution. You are all hopefully aware of how important enough sleep is, but I just want to reiterate it here. We need sleep to be healthy, happy and wise. So getting enough sleep, and not feeling guilty about it, should be added to the list of resolutions if it is not there already!
Happy 2010, and Dream Well!