Your dreams are "written" in your own private vocabulary; that's why their meaning is often unclear (and why dream books you buy won't explain your own visions). Moreover, the language of dreams is sensory and visual, whereas the language of daily life is verbal. You need to translate a dream much as you would a foreign language. Unfortunately, the same force s that make us disguise problems in our dreams are likely to hinder our recognizing them when we're awake.
Even Freud had trouble with self-analysis. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't explore your dreams alone or with a partner. People who keep dream journals say that over time, patterns often emerge. To put your dreams to work solving problems, try this routine:
Program yourself to wake up after every REM period. I did it while writing this article simply by telling myself I wanted to at bedtime. But don't make it a regular habit. "The ability to maintain consciousness during sleep can backfire," says Dr. Neil Kavey, director of the Columbia-Presbyterian sleep lab. "If you can't shut it off, you may have trouble remaining asleep, or you may sleep so poorly that you feel you didn't sleep at all."
Put a notebook and pen or tape recorder at your bedside.
At bedtime, select a problem and sum it up with a question, such as "Should I take this new job?" Write it down and list possible solutions.
Turn off the lights and reflect on these solutions.
Stick with it until you drift off to sleep.
When you wake up - during the night or in the morning - lie still.
To jog your memory, pretend you're a detective interviewing an eyewitness.
What's the last thing you remember? Before that?
Going backward can help you more easily reconstruct a dream.
Write down or tape record all that you remember. Do it before you shower and have breakfast.
If you have trouble catching dreams, try sleeping late on weekends
The longest dreams occur in the last part of sleep and many of us cut sleep short on week nights.
Once you've recorded your dream, how do you decode it? Tell it to yourself in the third person.
This may give you some distance from the dream and help you see the actions more clearly.
Then look at the part of the dream that is the most mysterious. "Frequently the most incongruous part provides the dream message,".
In her dream-therapy study, Cartwright asks participants to examine and try to change repetitive, troublesome dreams along seven dimensions:
Time orientation. Do all your dreams take place in the past?
Try positioning them in the present or future.
Competence to affect the outcome.
Try finding a positive way to resolve a dream.
In your dreams, do you hold yourself responsible when things go wrong? Must you?
Relation to former role: If your divorced, do you still dream of yourself as married?
If you have lost your job, do you still see yourself at work?
Motivation. Do you dream of being nurtured?
Can you think of a way to take care of yourself?
Mood. What would make a dream more pleasant? Dream roles: Do you like the part you play in your dreams? What role would you prefer?