How to stop a bad dream in its tracks (or talk to your ex in your dreams)

If you’ve ever felt trapped in a nightmare, you would probably welcome the ability to know while you’re dreaming that you’re really dreaming. Imagine having the ability to stop a dream and say to yourself ‘this is a dream;  I want to wake up now!’  You could stop nightmares in their tracks, or better yet, consciously engage with the dream. For example, if you’re dreaming and your ex suddenly appears in your dream, you would be able to have a conversation with him, perhaps bringing about some much-needed closure.

This is really what lucid dreaming is. Lucid dreaming is simply the ability to know you are dreaming while the dream is still taking place. Once you can do that, you can use your dreams to solve problems, ask your subconscious questions, and help you to lead a more fulfilling life. If you’re having a nightmare, you can literally tell yourself to wake up before you scare yourself to death.

But how can you get to recognize that you’re having a dream before the dream is over?  Typically, I’ve always realized I was dreaming AFTER I’ve woken up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up with my heart beating fast and my sheets drenched with sweat after a nerve-wracking experience. And then the relief floods over me when I realize, ‘oh, that was a dream!’

Just this week, I dreamt that I was with friends riding in what looked like a go-cart inside of a building, and we were being chased by a lion and some other animals. When we escaped the dangerous animals, we found some people that then proceeded to kidnap us. I would have loved to have stopped that dream mid-way through or at least changed the actions I took in the dream. I might have not run from the lion and instead run toward the lion to see what it did and figure out what I’m subconsciously afraid of.

So to prepare myself to get inside my dreamworld the NEXT time I encounter that lion or some other fear, I’ve been taking an online class on lucid dreaming by dream expert Charlie Morley. In the course, he suggests that you look for one of three different signs that a dream is a dream. When you find those signs, set the intention (or tell your subconscious mind) that the next time you see that sign you’ll know you’re dreaming.

Want to learn how to recognize -- and trust -- your own messages? Sign up here.

The first sign is noticing something really weird. For example, in my dream, my friends and I were driving around a building in a go-cart. If that wasn’t weird, I don’t know what is. Then add to the fact that a lion had the run of the building as well and that’s clearly a sign that I had veered beyond the edge of reality. So when I woke up from the dream, I told myself that if I dream about a lion or a go-cart or anything out of the ordinary again, I’ll know that it’s a dream.

The second sign is noticing certain themes. Have you ever dreamt that you’re back in school? I have a dream like that every few months, and typically I’m getting ready to take a test. I figure that dream means that I’m facing some kind of test in my real life, and on a subconscious level I’m worried about whether I will pass. When you dream about a certain overarching theme, it’s often a sign that you’re dreaming, Morley said. So set the intention that when you notice a particular theme crop up, you’ll know you’re dreaming.

The third sign is noticing recurring things in your dreams. Often we dream about the same people or themes over and over again. (These are typically very important dreams, since your subconscious is working super hard to make sure you figure out the meaning, so pay attention). If you frequently dream about a purple gorilla, then set the intention that the next time you dream about the purple gorilla, you will know that you are dreaming.

While it may sound like this is silly or a waste of time, it isn’t. By setting the intention and planting in your subconscious mind what to look for in dreamland, you’re making it more likely that if one of those signs pops up in the future, your subconscious mind will tell you that it is a dream. Once you know it’s a dream you’ll have more power and control to interact as you see fit.

You can try Morley’s lucid dreaming course yourself if you want by clicking here. Or if you prefer books, he’s written a couple of good ones including Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams. may receive compensation if users buy products or services mentioned or advertised on this site or click on some of the links on this site.