When listing the most exceptional experiences of my life up until to now, the first time I attained full awareness inside a dream would undoubtedly be on top of the list.
In my dream, I was running through some strange forest. When I stopped for a second to catch a breath I observed my environment. Something was off. The trees, the sky, everything seemed to be distorted.
Then it hit me: this couldn’t possibly be the real world, I had to be dreaming.
Although I was certain of the fact that I was inside a dream, the experience felt unbelievably lifelike. The view, the smells, the temperature, even the texture of the ground I was touching. This had to be real.
Realizing that this complete experience was a construction of my own subconscious mind gave me such a tremendous boost of adrenaline that I instantly woke up. I sat straight up in my bed with my heart pounding at 150 beats per minute.
I had to master this skill.
The practice of becoming consciously aware in a dream is known as lucid dreaming and has long been a topic of interest of a wide variety of people; physiologists, neuroscientists, and even Buddhist monks.
The experience is quite profound, and anyone who has practiced the skill will be familiar with the overwhelming sensations that are experienced when one becomes lucid. The state of being “awake in a dream” has been described as surreal, mind-boggling, and even mystical.
Or, as the online community at ld4all.com phrases it: “You are born with your own virtual reality system already built in. You just need to know how to access it.”
So, what exactly are lucid dreams, how can you benefit from them, and most importantly, how do you get them?
In this post, I will briefly unpack the concept and map out which methods I used in the past five years to have the most vivid and intense lucid dreams one can imagine.
2. What is lucid dreaming?
Before diving into techniques and practices, we first need to answer the following simple question:
What is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming refers to the state of becoming aware of the fact that you are in a dream. After some training, this awareness will enable you to control the dream at will.
Lucid dreams have a lot to offer. You will gain the ability to walk around in your own mind and are enabled with the power to have any experience that your heart desires.
This is why some refer to the practice as “playing God”, since you can basically do anything that you are capable of imagining.
In addition, one of the most captivating aspects of lucid dreaming is that the experience is indistinguishable from the real world from a sensory perspective.
Simply put, this means that anything you do inside the dream actually feels real to your mind.
If you decide to jump out of an airplane in a lucid dream, the experience will feel absolutely lifelike. The only difference is that you know that you’re in a dream.
This is why when you wake up, the dream will feel like a memory of something that you actually did in reality.
Right now you will begin to understand the powers of lucid dreams, and how mastering this skill can have a profound effect on the manner in which you perceive reality.
3. How to achieve lucid dreams
Although some people are blessed with the ability to achieve the lucid state by mere talent, for most the ability will not come to them naturally. You will need the right knowledge, dedication, and a structured approach to get the job done.
The most fundamental concept you have to understand is that achieving lucidity is a fully trainable skill, and although it might be easier for some to achieve this than for others, it is not some kind of magical power reserved only for Tibetian monks (although having experience with meditation most certainly will give you an advantage).
For me, the realization that all that was required was the willingness to dedicate myself to the practice made me even more drawn to the idea.
Besides the vast psychological and introspective benefits, the fact that lucidity is thoroughly trainable is a core reason why I decided to dedicate myself to the practice.
It’s a hardcore workout for the mind.
4. The Basics
First, we need to go through some fundamental knowledge and terminology before delving into specific techniques. The following concepts are not hard to grasp but require some clarification before we continue.
4.1 Dream recall
In order to have lucid dreams, you first need to be able to remember your dreams. Most people often remember just bits of their dreams, and some people say they never dream at all.
Recent studies show however that everybody is dreaming and that you even have four to six different dreams every single night.
If you’re claiming that you don’t have dreams, science says otherwise. You are just not able to recall your dreams.
So, how do you improve your dream recall?
4.2 Dream journal
The key to remembering dreams is by documenting them.
We do this by keeping a dream journal. This is a central document where you note all the events that took place (the ones you can remember) in your dream after waking up.
By documenting your dreams, you will not only have them on paper for subsequent analysis, you also train your memory in order to remember dreams better.
What’s the best way to keep your dream journal up to date?
Discipline and consistency
It is of crucial importance that you write down your dreams immediately after waking up. Don’t give the mind any time to wander off because it will start to adjust to the waking state.
Keep your dream journal directly next to your bed, or even under your pillow.
I would also highly recommend that you keep your dream journal up to date manually. Writing words down has shown to be more effective for long-term memory compared to when documenting on a digital device.
Again, the key here is to instantly write down everything you can recall immediately after waking up. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough.
Even if you just get up to go the bathroom you already started to activate your mind and you will lose memories.
Also, if you’re not able to recall anything just write down “no memory” or something along those lines. You will see that after some days you will start to be able to recall tiny fragments.
Those fragments will grow bigger and bigger the more you practice.
4.3 Dream signs
The second concept I will briefly cover is the presence of dream signs in your dreams, and how you can become able to recognize them.
Dream signs are hints that you are present in a dream. This can be basically anything, but I’ve experienced that there are reoccurring elements in most or even all of my dreams.
These reoccurring elements often take the form of a specific person or a childhood memory. Perhaps you are even already aware of a dream sign, which will save you time and effort.
How do you identify your dream signs?
Simple. By analyzing your dream journal after a certain period of time, you will be able to observe some commonalities between dreams.
For instance, in about half of my dreams, a childhood friend appears that I haven’t seen for years.
By being conscious of the fact that this person is most likely to appear only in my dreams, I am training myself to perform a reality check whenever I run into him, which brings us to the third and most important concept of lucid dreaming.
4.4 Reality checks
Reality checks are undoubtedly the most important aspect of lucid dreaming. When performing a reality check, you test whether you are in the “real world” or in a dream.
Most people are living their lives on automatic pilot. They are captivated by their thoughts the entire day and never really stop to be aware of their current state of being.
This is where reality checks come into play.
When you are performing a reality check you closely examine yourself and the world around you for any discrepancies. If you identify some elements that are misplaced or don’t make any sense, this might be a sign that you are actually in a dream.
Counting your fingers
There are actually a few commonly used reality checks you can use. My favorite one is by far to count my fingers.
This might sound absurd, but in your dreams, most of the times your hand doesn’t have five fingers.
This is due to the fact that some parts of your brain that deal with language and counting are less active when you are asleep.
In effect, when you look at your hand in a dream there will almost certainly be four, six, or even seven fingers. When this occurs, you know that you must be in a dream. You will become lucid.
On some occasions, my hand actually does have five fingers in a dream. This is why I perform a double check.
In addition to counting my fingers, I also press my index- and middle finger through the palm of my hand when performing a reality check.
When being awake, you will feel the solid texture of your hand. In a dream, you will press your fingers right through your hand.
There are other popular forms of reality checks, such as:
- Look at a digital clock, look away, and look again. In a dream, the time will have changed.
- Pinche your nose and try to breathe. In a dream, you will still be able to breathe normally.
It is important to note that when you are performing a reality check you really have to ask yourself deeply if you are awake or not.
Only by truly questioning the nature of your current reality you will be able to become lucid.
4.5 Conditioning yourself
Now that you know what a reality check is and how to do one, it is important to make it a ritual to perform a reality check as often as you can.
This is how I was able to have my first lucid dream after just three days of trying.
The reason for this is that your habitual behavior continues in your dreams.
So if performing reality checks becomes a part of your subconsciousness, you will continue to act them out when you are sleeping.
In order to perform reality checks frequently, you can set an alarm on specific moments of the day or simply try to remember to do them. I wouldn’t recommend the latter though.
For me, the best method when starting out was to draw the letter “L” on top of my hand, right between my thumb and index finger.
This way, every time I looked at my hand I remembered to perform a reality check and I counted my fingers. I performed over 50 checks a day and made it a habit within no-time.
5. Beginner Lucid Dreaming Techniques
Now that we have covered the basics, I will lay out some of the different techniques I have used to become lucid.
The following techniques are perfectly suited for beginners, and I still use them on a regular basis since they are extremely easy to apply and very effective once you get a hold of them.
5.1 Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dreams | MILD Technique
The first technique that I will cover is aimed at absolute beginners.
The Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dreaming technique (MILD) is perfect for those who never have had a lucid dream before and are willing to give it a shot without putting too much of an effort into the practice.
This technique can be used immediately and requires little preparation.
Step 1: Developing Dream Recall
Although the MILD technique is easy to use, you do need to meet some prerequisites in order to successfully have your first lucid dream. If you have not covered the previous section regarding the basics of lucid dreaming, I urge you to do so now.
First, you need to have a certain level of dream recall. If you are not able to recall your dreams yet, start working on this first by actively recording your dreams in a dream journal.
Second, you need to have a basic understanding of reality checks. As covered in the previous section, reality checks are easily incorporated into your daily routine.
When you are able to remember your dreams and know how to perform a reality check, you are ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Programming your subconscious mind with affirmations
This technique is developed by Stephen Dr. LaBerge of the Lucidity Institute.
The primary goal is to induce lucid dreams by using a mnemonic learning technique. This simply means that you will tell yourself repeatedly that a specific event will happen.
The goal is to plant a seed in your subconsciousness, which you will do with so-called lucid affirmations. This means repeating a phrase for a certain amount of time before you go to sleep.
See it as a kind of mantra, you will say over and over again that you will have a lucid dream the next time you’ll be asleep. By doing this repeatedly you program yourself that the event will occur.
When programming yourself in this manner make sure to use simple and positive language that is easy for yourself to remember. A few examples are:
- “I will have a lucid dream tonight”
- “The next time I dream, I will become lucid”
- “I will remember my dreams easily”
Pick one of these phrases, or create your own. The specific content of the phrase isn’t of that great importance, as long as you make sure that it is positively structured.
One thing that is important when using a mnemonic learning technique is to believe in the mantra you are repeating. Don’t just say to yourself that you will have a lucid dream tonight, be convinced that this will happen.
Whether you do this in your head or out loud is up to you, but by saying the words in addition to thinking them you will be even more engaged into the practice.
Step 3: Visualizing the Dream World
When repeating the lucid affirmations while laying in bed, you will notice that you will start to fall asleep. When you are drifting off try to visualize the dream that you would like to have.
You shouldn’t make this any harder than necessary.
Just focus on the things that you would like to experience in your dream. Visualize the scenery, the sounds, and the people you want to see in a realistic manner, but don’t force anything.
Keep in mind to keep repeating your mnemonic mantra when visualizing your dream environment.
At this point, you will wander off and fall asleep.
Since this is a beginner technique, we are not yet going to try to keep the mind awake when the body falls asleep (this would be the WILD technique, more on this in section 6.1).
In the following dreams of that night, there will be a significant chance that you will become lucid. This can either happen through means of a reality check or through spontaneous recognition of a dream sign. When this happens try to stay calm in order not to wake up.
This last part is easier said than done, and it might take you a few times to get your enthusiasm under control. The first three times I achieved lucidity I got so hyped that I woke up.
The most important thing to do here is to give in to the experience and to play around with your newly obtained powers.
5.2 Wake Back To Bed | WBTB Technique
The Wake Bed To Bed (WBTB) technique is quite often used by those who are starting with lucid dreaming and are experimenting with their new ability.
This technique is relatively easy to use since it doesn’t require a lot of mental effort and only a little more preparation than the MILD technique.
Almost all of the lucid dreams I had during my first year where achieved by using the WBTB technique.
Different sleep stages
In order to understand how the WBTB technique works you need to have a basic understanding of the different human sleep stages.
Human sleep consists of five different stages, each with its own characteristics. Stage 1 to 4 are categorized as the non-REM stages and stage 5 is known as the REM stage. You will probably be familiar with this term.
REM is short for Rapid Eye Movement, referring to the heavily active eyes during this stage. (Off topic: Lucid dreaming was scientifically proven to be a real state of being by an experiment where eye movement was measured.)
For the purpose of this post, it is important to know that almost all vivid dreams occur during the REM phase of our sleep cycle. During this stage, the body is completely paralyzed so that you will not act your dreams out in the real world.
REM sleep and the accompanied vivid dreams occur at the end of a sleep cycle. This means you will have to go through the first four stages first in order to get to the REM stage.
Okay, enough about REM sleep for now. If you are interested in more information about sleep cycles I recommend this excellent post.
Step 1: Waking up before the REM stage
When using the WBTB method, you are going to wake up just before entering the REM stage. By going back to sleep after a short period of being awake, you will enter the REM sleep directly with an increased chance to have a lucid dream.
The last REM phase you enter during a night is in many cases the strongest one. This is why you will often only remember the dreams that occur during this phase.
By setting an alarm around three hours before you usually wake up, you will make sure that your last REM phase hasn’t started yet.
So, if your normal waking time is at 6 AM, set your alarm at 3 AM.
After waking up you can either make yourself a cup of tea and go back to bed after twenty minutes or you can stay in bed.
I tried both getting out of bed and staying in bed without moving, and although they worked for me both, I prefer to not get up and to just stay awake in bed for around 20 minutes.
Important: don’t fall asleep immediately.
Step 2: Perform lucid affirmations
Now that you are awake you will perform some lucid affirmations as discussed in the MILD technique.
Try to focus all your cognitive capacity on the thought that you are going to have a lucid dream when you will go back to sleep.
Repeat the mantra “I will have a lucid dream” in your head or out loud.
Step 3: Become lucid
Chances are high that you will become conscious during your next sleep cycle.
Remember to perform reality checks and to stay calm.
A more advanced method closely related to the WBTB technique is the WILD method, which will be discussed in the next section.
6. Advanced Lucid Dreaming Techniques
In this section, I will highlight some more advanced lucid dreaming techniques. I recommend using these techniques if you are already familiar with lucid dreaming and are experimenting with new approaches.
Having experience with either meditation or yoga will be of great help for these techniques.
6.1 Wake Induced Lucid Dreams | WILD Technique
The first technique I will cover is called the Wake Induced Lucid Dream (WILD) technique.
The WILD is used by more experienced lucid dreamers, although some people naturally use this technique without consciously being aware of it.
Personally, this is my favorite technique.
Directly entering the dream state
What makes the WILD more advanced than the closely related WBTB, is that you will directly enter your dream with a conscious mind.
This means that you will avoid the process of having to “wake up” in a dream. You will transition from your bedroom into your dream world directly as if going through a portal to another dimension.
This requires practice and dedication since you will have to train how to let the body go to sleep while keeping the mind awake.
Therefore, the WILD requires more mind control than the MILD and WBTB techniques.
Although the WILD is more advanced, with some practice it’s definitely worth your time.
Strictly follow these steps.
Step 1: Meditate
The first part of this technique is to become totally relaxed.
Before going to bed spend some time meditating to let go of your daily thoughts. If you have prior experience with meditation this will be a major advantage.
Next up, go to bed and lay flat on your back. This position will enable you to enter the lucid dream state much more easily.
Key here is to keep your mind in the meditative mindset.
Observe your thoughts without interacting with them. Just let them come and go naturally. The goal is not to control your thoughts, but merely to be aware of them.
Become conscious of the fact that there is no “thinker that thinks the thoughts”. All there is is awareness.
Step 2: Enter the hypnagogic state
When entering more deeper stages of meditation you will enter a state referred to as the hypnagogic state.
This is where things will start to get trippy.
During this stage, you will slowly start to see different colors, forms, and objects through your mind’s eye.
Keep your eyes closed and start to focus on these colors. Maintain your meditative mindset and just observe what’s happening in front of you.
Resist the urge of getting extremely excited or trying to control the moving patterns. Just observe the scenery and keep your awareness.
At this point, time will start to dissolve and you might even start to hear sounds. Don’t move your body when this is happening since this will stop the entire process and you will have to start all over again.
Just observe and be amazed.
Step 3: Send the body to sleep while keeping the mind awake
When you are going even deeper and are fully immersing yourself in the hypnagogic state, the connection between your mind and your physical body will start to dissolve.
It is of crucial importance that your mind will not fall asleep during this phase.
As the mind will stay awake, the body will go to sleep now. You will start to feel this happening gradually. This will feel similar to when your leg or arm goes numb after being in a certain position for a while.
Beware that this may also induce sleep paralysis.
The first few times you are experiencing this you might feel heavy anxiety since after a certain point you will be unable to move your body at command.
Remember that this is completely natural.
When you are getting more comfortable with this new sensation, you’re ready to enter the next step.
Step 4: Visualize your dream
Now that the physical connection between your body and mind is almost completely gone, you might feel to be tripping inside your own mind.
Although this experience itself is pretty intense, we’re going to take it even one step further.
It is now time to lose the observer mindset and to create your own dream world.
Since everything you are experiencing inside a dream is a product of your own mind, you can unleash your full imagination now. It’s fully up to you where you want to go.
Whether you want to visit some tropical island or a distant planet, try to visualize the scenery in front of you and try to reproduce the place as vivid as possible.
Imagine colors, sounds, and smells.
When ready, transport yourself to the dream world. Perform a reality check and stay aware.
You are now lucid and free to do whatever you want.
6.2 Dream Induced Lucid Dreams | DILD Technique
The Dream Induced Lucid Dreaming (DILD) technique is quite different from the previous techniques in the sense that it’s a little different to train.
When you perform a DILD, you become lucid in a dream by recognizing that something is not quite in place. This either happens through the means of a reality check or by recognizing a dream sign.
This can also happen just randomly.
It is even likely that you will experience your first lucid dream tonight just because you read this long post on lucid dreaming.
Through my own experience I know that as time progresses, it becomes more easy to have DILDs naturally.
This is why I categorize the DILD as a more advanced technique since if you’re an absolute beginner and you want to to have a lucid dream fast, it might be better to put your money on trying the MILD or WBTB first.
There are a few things you can do to increase the chance of having DILDs.
Increase your reality check frequency
As mentioned before, one of the best ways to achieve lucidity is by performing a lot of reality checks.
In order to perform habitual reality checks in your dreams, make sure to boost the number of reality checks you perform a day.
Do as many as possible with the tips earlier mentioned. You can’t do them enough.
The routine has to get rooted deeply in your subconscious mind.
Practicing meditation can significantly increase the odds to have a DILD.
When you meditate frequently, you will become more conscious during your daily life.
This attitude of awareness towards being is extremely beneficial if you want to have more lucid dreams.
When you keep this meditative mindset also in your dreams, you are much more likely to recognize things that are a bit off and don’t fit into the world.
Another good way to have DILDs is to practice self-hypnosis. Although I don’t use this method often anymore nowadays for lucid dreaming, the first few years I started out it helped me out a lot.
Make sure to check out Micheal Sealey’s YouTube channel.
Listen to binaural beats
Closely linked to self-hypnosis are binaural beats.
When listening to binaural beats, a tone is played on a different frequency in each of your ears, which are then merged to one sound by your mind.
Binaural beats can be used for various purposes, I listen to them daily while working. Every now and then, I play a set before going to bed to increase the odds of having a DILD.
Check out the YouTube channel of Magnetic Minds for tons of binaural beats.
Lucid dreams offer a distinct and highly intense experience. The practice is fully trainable and enables you to explore your own psyche and to have any experience you desire.
If you’ve never had a lucid dream before, the MILD and WBTB techniques mentioned in this post will give you guidance. If you follow the instructions I am positive that you will become lucid fast.
When you already have some experience with lucid dreaming, the more advanced WILD technique is one of the best ways to develop your skill.
Enjoy the ride.
All the knowledge I have on lucid dreaming is attained through various websites, forums, and books. If you want to extend your research I highly recommend to check out the following resources. They offer more in-depth articles on specific techniques, studies, and new developments.
Lucid Dreaming (Stephen LaBerge, 1985).
Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self (Robert Waggoner, 2008).