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The reading of dreams isn’t just the playground of mystics and seers—professional psychologists have been researching, analyzing, and interpreting our dreams for decades. And many times, they get it right.

Dream interpretation theories are numerous. Famed psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that the imagery and events of a dream expressed the dreamer’s unconscious mind. Philosopher and psychologist Carl Jung thought dreams revealed information from the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Calvin S. Hall, a psychologist who focused on understanding how dreams affect cognition, felt that dreams are part of a process that takes our experiences and makes them into long-term memories.

Still others believe that the actual act of the dreamer interpreting their dreams reveals more than the dreams, themselves, ever could. These are just a few informed perspectives among many.

Still, there are a few commonalities that run through most theories of dream interpretation, and you can use these core ideas to help you understand your own dreams in everyday life. We’re not always privy to what’s going on beneath the surface of our own inner lives, and so the act of examining our dreams can give us a rare, introspective glimpse into these inner worlds.

If you’d like that glimpse, let’s take a look at how you can analyze your dreams.

Begin With Understanding

Before you can begin to analyze your own dreams, it’s important to know why you dream.

Current research suggests that our dreams represent the connection between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, allowing communication between the world of who we think we are, and who we really are.

Dreams also allow our brain to “train” itself. Our minds often play out emotionally difficult or physically dangerous experiences within the safety of the imagination, creating those scenarios we fear the most so that we can learn how to react.

This is also true of those experiences we desire and anticipate the most.

Because of this, dreams can reveal your deepest fears, as well as your strongest desires, helping you gain a better understanding of your inner self. Now that you have a general understanding of the “why” behind your dreams, let’s look at the “how” of analyzing them—it’s easier than you might think.

Write Down Your Dreams

Many people report having no dreams at all, but it’s far more likely that they’re simply forgetting them. That’s why the most fundamental step of interpreting your dreams lies in recording them.

Keep a notebook by your bed. This is your dream-notebook. Within, you’re going to write whatever dream-impressions you’re left with upon waking.

Even if you only remember a single image, sound, or experience, write it down. Write a word or a sentence about it. Do whatever you can to record whatever you remember. If there’s nothing, simply write “No dream.”

As time goes by, you’ll find that, because you’re so much more focused on them, you’ll remember your dreams much more vividly. And not only that, your notes will form the foundation for the next few steps.

Identify Recurring Elements

Dreams often follow a certain pattern—so much so that two people can sometimes have dreams that are remarkably similar.

For instance, dreams of teeth falling out are incredibly common, as are dreams of rats, spiders, or snakes biting at the feet while in bed. Dreams of falling happen often, as do dreams of being chased, or chasing someone.

Identify recurring thoughts, as well. Things like “He’s going to kill me,” “I have to escape,” and “I don’t understand” are common.

Look, also, for places and things. Do your dreams often involve a childhood home or a lost love? Do you dream of your university, or perhaps of that old stream where you spent time with your father?

Write these down and keep them handy. You’re going to need them for the final step.

Identify Your Feelings

Here’s the fun part. Dreams are strongly associated with feelings. Have you ever had a dream that you couldn’t quite remember, yet the emotions it aroused lingered all day? When this happens, you should write this down, as well.

What’s important here is how you feel about your dreams upon waking—especially those recurring elements—, and not necessarily how you felt within the dream. When you recall the dream’s events and experiences, what emotions come forth? Are you afraid? Joyful? Peaceful? This can be incredibly telling.

Finally, you’re going to connect the dots, linking your feelings to the places, people, objects, and actions of your dreams so that you can gain a better understanding of who you are, what drives you, and maybe even where you’re going.

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