Sleep On It: A Therapist Explains How To Use Your Dreams To Make Decisions
The first step, says Ellis, is to write down your burning question before bed to prime your subconscious. “Sort of a general question; not too specific,” she notes. Next, try to record all your dreams for the next couple of nights (if you have trouble remembering, see our guide here). Interpret them and “treat those as though they are a response,” Ellis explains. “A lot of times you’ll get a creative answer, something relevant that you wouldn’t have thought of in your normal waking.”
That’s because your dreams can tap into your subconscious and help you deal with intense emotions; as Ellis notes, “Dreams tend to take the really heightened emotion that we feel during the day and dampen it down or calm it down.” So when it comes to solving a problem, your dreams can wade through the emotions and unconscious biases you might not be privy to during waking hours.
It’s a simple practice, yet profound: In fact, she says, tons of creative individuals (think inventors and artists) turn to their dreams when they’re stuck on a problem. Apparently, Dmitri Mendeleev (who created the periodic table) saw all the elements organized in a dream, and Albert Einstein came up with the theory of general relativity after dreaming about a field of cows. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney composed the entire melody of the song, “Yesterday,” in a dream.
That’s not to say you can drift off and expect to wake up with an Einstein-sized eureka moment. As Ellis says, your dreams can help you take that extra step, especially if you’re experiencing a creative block. In the case of Einstein, he was of course ruminating on the science during the day, but perhaps that dream was what he needed to connect the dots. “The dreaming process is what brings that creative leap,” Ellis adds. “Once you’ve got all of the background information you need and you’ve been wrestling with a problem, you do get answers from some outside-the-box kind of place.”