A few years ago I wrote a post on how we can use dreams to help keep New Year’s resolutions. As there are so many new visitors to The Dream Well now, I thought it might be worthwhile to re-post this (albeit a slightly edited version!)
The New Year is a wonderful time for self-reflection. For many of us, 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. 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 new year’s resolutions and make this year one to say “I 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 resolutions stick, we need to keep paying attention to what is going on inside us a lot more often. To really understand yourself better, you need to keep up this process all year long. This can help to recognise early on when the temptation to give up arises, and what conflicts may be present. While it may be a bit much to find time every day, scheduling in at least one hour every week can make a big difference. Maybe set aside an hour each Sunday before the new week starts, to stop and ask yourself, “How am I feeling? What is working for me now? What challenges am I facing?” Being conscious of these small changes in mood and commitment can help to keep you 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 your subconscious. You don’t have to write to every single detail or analyse every single dream, but starting to pay attention to dreams and recording them can prove helpful when you need to look back later and understand what was happening in your 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. The first step to change and personal growth is assert the will – to try and “force” the change through a strength of commitment. Sadly, many of the best intentions fail because of this approach. Only when we truly accept the conflict associated with personal growth at our deepest, subconscious level, not simply the level of conscious ego, will change really happen in our lives. All change requires a certain loss – giving up, letting go or releasing something, in order that new behaviours, beliefs and relationships may come into being.
Conflict in dreams will show us what we are “fighting” against on a symbolic level, and what it is we fear losing or letting go of. Perhaps you have made a resolution to create greater work/life balance. While consciously this a goal, your dreams may reveal what fears you would have if you pursued this goal. You may dream of falling down stairs, perhaps indicating a loss of social esteem, declining fortunes, or going in a downwards direction in your career. Or you may dream of not being able to drive a car, symbolising your fear of stalling your career, or losing control of your life if you were to focus less on work or earn less money.
4. Look for clues to help you win: just as 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 wins 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 three 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. You may feel despondent and want to give up in waking life, but dreams can give you symbols of hope, that if recognised, you can use for motivation to keep going in 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, finding a new room in a house or clearing in a forest, or finding a magical or powerful object in the dream. All these things can be significant signs that the change you are struggling with while awake is taking a deep-rooted effect in your subconscious, and if you persist, may be the lasting change you seek.
6. Look for allies and friends in 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 you are all alone, stepping into a new territory that you don’t understand, like you are walking into a new world where you don’t know the rules. At such times, when you are at your most vulnerable, but also acting with bravery and exerting your will, your subconscious will often call on help to guide and reassure you 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 dreams for help: 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’t communicated with your subconscious in a while, it may take some time for it to recognise that you are trying to reach it. But with time and patience, it should.
8. Allow your dreams be wish fulfillment: many New Year’s resolutions are about giving something up, whether it may cigarettes, chocolate, an unhealthy relationship or some other bad habit. While many dreams may provide symbolic signs of reassurance, and others insight into our deeper conflicts and ways to resolve them, sometimes a dream may be a fantasy about the thing we are most trying to avoid. You 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 your troubled love who welcomes you with a kindness and intimacy rarely experienced in waking life. The first thing to realise is that this is completely natural! Secondly, 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. This reprogramming takes time and effort. Be prepared for this, recognise it when it happens, as 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 tiring. 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 focusing 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!: Without sleep, we can neither dream nor have the energy to exert our will in keeping resolutions. 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 2014, and Dream Well!