Dream incubation is simply focusing your attention on an issue of importance to you when you are going to sleep.

In a study at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Deirdre Barrett had her students focus on a problem, such as an unsolved homework assignment or other life concerns, before going to sleep each night for a week. Two-thirds of the participants had dreams that addressed their chosen problem, and one-third reached some form of solution within their dreams.

People have given themselves successful pre-sleep suggestions for everything from seeing finished artwork in their dreams of developing plots or characters for a novel to asking dreams to solve computing and mechanical design problems.

Dream Incubation can be used for problem-solving, enjoyment, improving relationships and enlightenment. The steps are simple!

1. Choose a topic or issue to incubate

More specific topics, like doing well with a presentation you have to give in three days, making a good impression at a job interview or learning to lucid dream, are easier to test incubation for yourself. Either you see improvement or you don’t.

More general issues, like overcoming depression, building confidence or building clarity in meditation, lead to broad but more subtle improvements in your mood or life.

2. Write a script to read over before you go to sleep

You are likely to forget to repeat to yourself important aspects of your dream incubation if you don’t read over a written script. Writing forces you to be clear about what you want and why you want it.

Shorter scripts are easier to repeat a number of times and tend to be more specifically focused, while longer scripts create associated moods and are more dreamlike. Both styles have their benefits and drawbacks. Why not try both?

3. Include in your script your reasons for incubating dreams on your topic

Reviewing reasons clarifies intention, generates focus and motivation. Here are a couple of examples:

“I am tired of being scared of public speaking and want to overcome my fear once and for all.”
“I know meditation is good for me, but I need help staying clear and focused!”

4. Put visual and emotionally-evocative elements in your script

The intentions behind your dream incubation are concepts, while dreams themselves tend to deal with images and emotions and not so much with concepts. Therefore, the more that you can translate your intentions into visual, dream-like elements in your pre-sleep incubation, the more successful it is likely to be.

Here is an example:

“I am getting up to do my presentation and I feel my fear of failure, my anxiety. I resolve to focus instead on giving these people what I have to give in the best way I know how. As I present, I use my anxiety to make my presentation more alive, more spontaneous and useful.”

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5. Be sure and include in your script some version of the following:

“I am awakening with a vivid dream. I am reaching for a pen and paper or laptop to write it down. As I do the memory of the dream comes flooding back and I feel very satisfied that I have recalled and written down my dreams.”

6. Use visual aids

Put a picture of what you want to incubate on the wall at the end of your bed or beside you on your bedside table. If you’re an artist, it might be a blank canvas. If you’re a scientist, the device you’re working on that’s half assembled or a mathematical proof you’ve been writing through versions of. And if it’s a personal problem, it might be the person you have the conflict with.”

If you wake up during the night, read your script over again. This is because you do most of your dreaming prior to morning awakening.

Write down whatever dreams you remember no matter how trivial or unrelated they are before getting out of bed.

Movement and distraction make dream memories quickly evaporate.

7. Interview characters from the dream

Including inanimate ones like trees and houses to find out if they think the dream has any relevance to your dream incubation and if they have any advice about how to go about approaching the issues you have incubated.

8. Be persistent

Reading your script one night is not enough. As a rule of thumb, your dreams will be built around your waking life in one way or another; what problems you are trying to solve, worries, fears, what you are ignoring, and your world view.

Persistence is required for your incubations to break through the ongoing themes which your dreams portray.

Joseph Dillard

Joseph Dillard, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, teacher and author providing Skype coaching from Berlin, Germany. Author of over twenty books on transpersonal transformation and with over thirty-five years experience in private, out-patient and in-patient treatment of anxiety, depression, nightmares, PTSD, couples, family and adolescent issues, Dr. Dillard specializes in helping people take their development to the next level by finding their unique inner compass through dreamwork, meditation and pranayama training. Information on all these areas may be found at IntegralDeepListening.com. Integral Deep Listening is a form of Dream Yoga, which can be explored at DreamYoga.Com.