Unless you happen to have spent some time living in a Buddhist temple while growing up, learning to have lucid dreams is probably quite unlike any skill you have ever learnt before. This means that rather than jumping straight in, there are going to be a few small building blocks it will be helpful to pick up along the way. This will get you to a place where you can bring these different pieces together, and be able to consistently induce and control your lucid dreams.
Learning these new techniques, generally involves two things happening; firstly you’re going to need to create some new habits, making certain practices part of your regular routine. Then secondly, behind the scenes your brain needs to do a bit of re-wiring, creating some new neural connections to allow you to generate and interact with what is essentially a new state of conscious awareness that you haven’t previously been using.
It is worth recognising this is a quite a challenging thing you are setting out to do. However there is nothing fundamental about lucid dreaming which means it is any more, or any less difficult than plenty of other skills you probably already managed to acquire, like; learning to swim, play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, or to ride a bike, for example.
Using these skills as a rough guide, think how long it took you to get to the point where you could confidently declare “I can ride a bike”. How many hours of riding with stabilizers? How many times did you lose your balance and topple over the moment a parent let go from holding on to the back of your bike? Having a realistic expectation of how long it takes to learn something from scratch, and recognising that you will probably fall off a few times along the way will help you enjoy the journey, and not get disheartened by those inevitable tumbles that are part of the learning process.
While it is true that people learn in different ways and at different rates, as a general guide, like before, think back to a previous skill you learnt. The moment at which you were able to confidently declare your new ability really only came down to two factors; how much time you spent practicing, and how much effort you put into that practice. The same is going to be to true with learning to lucid dream; you can put a lot of effort in and actually pick it up quite quickly, or you can take it more easy, dipping in and out, as and when you choose. If you go for the second approach, that’s fine, you’ll still get there, but it will take a little longer. Unfortunately it is a choice; fast or easy, you can’t have both.
If your goal is to have regular lucid dreams as quickly as possible, this will need to be the main focus of your effort during this time. By setting aside around one hour per day, and accepting some disruption to your regular sleeping habits, it is entirely possible to reach the point where you can have 3-5 lucid dreams per week after only one month.
Again, this isn’t really any different than the progress you would expect to make with any other new skill. If you decided you wanted to learn to speak Spanish, and spent an hour every day practicing, at the end of a month you would be able to both say and understand quite a large number of Spanish words and phrases. But you wouldn’t be fluent, and you wouldn’t expect to be either.
In the same way it isn’t practical to expect that after only one month of practice, you will be able to have multiple lucid dreams on demand each and every night. But you can reasonably expect to be recognising some frequently occurring dreamsigns, and for the process of using reality checks to have begun to become habitual. At the same time, and as a result of your practices, growth of new neurons, and new connections between them, will have begun within your brain, and you will experience more frequent moments of lucidity.
There are a huge number of lucid dreaming techniques available, and for each technique you will always find people to say “this is the best technique for having more lucid dreams”. The strangest aspect of this is, as you get more experienced with lucid dreaming, you will discover; they are all right. Each technique in a certain situation, or for a certain type of personality, can be the most effective tool for successfully inducing a lucid dream.
When you are first starting out, this variety of techniques can actually be more confusing than helpful. So to keep it simple, providing you are being disciplined with your practice, and using the same techniques every day, how many lucid experiences you have during those first few months really only comes down to three factors:
How well you recall your dreams
How well you are able to recognise the content of those dreams
How often you are able to respond to that content with a test which will prove you are dreaming
A 2012 meta study on lucid dreaming from researchers at the Heidelberg University (a meta-study is just one which analyses the results of lots of other pieces of research together), found that the most effective techniques at inducing lucid dreams were; Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD), Reality Checking, Intentionality and the Wake Back To Bed technique.
There is a significant overlap in the steps for performing these techniques, and that is because they all have these same three factors at their core (although good dream recall is taken as implicit in some of them). The most commonly used phrase for both the intentionality and MILD techniques is; 'Next time I'm dreaming I will remember to recognize I'm dreaming’, which is a direct appeal to the second key factor.
The Heidelberg study also showed that a person was most likely to have a lucid dream when they combined two or more of these techniques together. This naturally fits with a common sense understanding of these techniques, the intention you set using either the Intentionality or MILD techniques is far more likely to be effective, if you also have a tool, Reality Checking, to aid you in your in-dream recognition.
So what actual steps should you be following to target these three factors most effectively, without wasting any unnecessary time? This research suggests that to get the best returns for your lucid dreaming effort, you should be focused on;
Analysing your dream journal to identify your dream signs
Making reality checks a habitual process
Setting your intention; to both remember your dreams on waking if this isn’t yet natural for you, and then to recognise those dream signs while dreaming
Use the links above to see a break-down of each of these new skills and tips on how to get the most out of each technique.
Together they will mean your hour a day of lucid dreaming practice breaks down into; spending around twenty minutes first thing each morning, writing up your dreams from the night before, another twenty minutes spread in small blocks throughout the day for performing reality checks, and a final twenty minutes in the evening last thing before bed, to review the previous nights dreams, keep track of your current dream-signs (these will change over time) and set your intention to recognise the clues that you are dreaming in the night ahead.
Following just the four simple exercises will mean by the end of a month you can reasonably expect to be having 3-5 lucid dreams every week. The key to your success here is consistency. The effect of the reality checking and intentionality techniques are cumulative, so don’t be disheartened if you go for a few days following all of these steps without a lucid dream to show for it. Each day you are slowly tipping the scales more and more in your favour. Behind the scenes, your brain is building and reinforcing the neural connections and associations that will allow you to become lucid, not just once, but time after time.
Stumbrys T, Erlacher D, Schädlich M, Schredl M, Induction of lucid dreams: a systematic review of evidence, Consciousness and Cognition, 2012 Sep;21(3):1456-75. doi: 10.1016