Keeping a dream journal is the first step to remembering your dreams. It’s the tool that most people use to increase dream recall and is also the mostly widely recommended. And for good reason. By taking time every day to recall and record your dreams, you are alerting your mind that they are important.
Every day, we are exposed to so much stimuli that we cannot possibly process it all. Most of what we take in through our five senses doesn’t reach our conscious awareness. If everything did, we’d be so overwhelmed with data that we’d have NO IDEA what to focus on.
But our brains are smart. They have developed the ability to be selective. We take note of those things which have been important in the past, and disregard the rest.
If you’ve spent your lifetime disregarding your dreams, you have essentially trained your brain to believe they are unimportant and belong in the category of excess information. If this is the case, your dream recall will likely be poor.
But never fear. You can still learn to remember your dreams. You just need to teach your brain to pay attention to them. Once your mind understands that dreams are an important part of your life, it will do its part to help you recall them.
By keeping a dream journal, your mind gets its daily reminder to pay attention to what’s going on during the night.
But where do you begin? Keeping a dream journal doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. But it is important to have some strategy to keeping your journal.
Here’s how to keep a dream journal for maximum benefit:
Write Every Morning
Spend a few minutes first thing in the morning recording your dreams. Do this as soon as possible. Since dreams are stored in your short-term memory, they will fade fast unless they are transferred into your long-term memory or recorded. Write in your dream journal while still in bed, if possible. If it’s not possible, at least jot down a few key symbols or themes that stand out and can help jog your memory so you can record the details later.
If you can’t record your dreams while still in bed, make sure you write down your dreams the first chance you get. I like using a small portable journal that I can easily carry in my purse and write while on the go. That way, if I don’t get to record my dreams immediately, my journal will be with me when I’m ready.
Use Present Tense
When recording your dreams in your dream journal, use present tense rather than past tense. Working this way creates more intimate dream recall. You are in the action, reliving the story of your dream in the moment. Writing in the present tense creates a more active reading experience and brings new life to your dreams.
Write Descriptive Titles
Give each dream a descriptive title and write it at the top of your entry. Titles help you create a better memory for your dreams by making the action more concrete in your mind. Probably the most important reason for using descriptive titles is that they act as a brief summary of the dream, which can help you later when you go back through your dream journal.
Record Everything You Remember
Record feelings, senses, or any pieces of the dream you can remember. If you can’t recall the entire dream write down how you felt when you woke up, or record the thoughts in your mind. This is a starting place. As your dream recall improves, you’ll be able to grab hold of larger and larger fragments of your dreams, until one day you are able to recall a cohesive story line.
Create a List of Symbols
After you’ve written down your dream, go back through your dream journal entry and underline any dream symbols that appeared in your dream. Once you’ve identified your dream symbols, re-write them at the end of your entry (or on the next page) and tally the number of times each symbol appeared in your dream.
Your list will be useful for keeping track of your most common dream symbols. When you are aware of your common dream symbols, you can use them to improve your dream recall by mentally going through them whenever you want to recall a dream. They will also be useful later on if you decide to learn lucid dreaming. (If you don’t know what lucid dreaming is, don’t worry about it. There will be plenty of time for that later.)
Create a List of Themes
Once you’ve collected about 12 – 14 dreams, you’ll be ready to categorize your dream symbols into common themes. Look back to the list of symbols you created at the end of each dream journal entry. Use these lists to find common dream symbol themes among your dreams.
Doing so will be useful for dream recall. If you wake up with a sense that you had a dream but can’t recall any specifics, mentally go through your list of dream themes. This will help get you thinking about what commonly appears in your dreams. If any of your common themes or symbols appeared in your most recent dream, recalling the symbol might help you grab onto a piece of your dream. Sometimes this is enough to unravel the entire story of your dream.
Example: My Dream Journal
To give you an idea of what a dream journal entry might look like, I’ll give you an example from my own journal:
Dentist who Harvests Teeth
I am living in a hut, in a sort of primitive village. I notice my front right tooth is starting to feel a little unstable. It’s wiggling and suddenly falls out. Then, I notice that one of my molars is wiggling too. I play with it with my tongue and when it comes out – it rips out. The entire root is gone and I look in the mirror and there are marks along the side of my gums like the tooth has been violently uprooted.
I go to the dentist to see if they can glue my front cap back on and see what they can do about my molar. I learn that my dentist no longer works with porcelain caps or laser technology because it’s not profitable. I ask what I should do and am referred to another dentist.
The new dentist looks at my teeth and tells me there is another tooth growing in. I am confused because these are my adult teeth. Then I learn that some dentists have been harvesting people’s teeth for use in other patients. I am outraged, but no one else seems alarmed – they already knew this was going on.
Dream Symbols (with tally of occurrences):
Teeth – III
Business – II
Dentist – II
Hut – I
Themes: Authority figures (dentist), Teeth, Home, Deception
I chose this dream to use an example because dreaming about losing teeth is a common dream theme.
Notice that I used a descriptive title that tells me something about the action of the dream at a glance. The present tense brings the reader right into the dream with me. I underlined dream symbols that stood out to me, and then categorized and tallied them at the end of the entry. This makes it easier to recognize dream symbols later on. I also recorded the themes that showed up, based on the common symbols.
If you’re feeling really frisky, you can even include an interpretation of the dream. I didn’t write one for this dream at the time. But knowing what was going on in my life at that time, I would say that dream was communicating some anxieties I was feeling about a situation with my school.
If you take the time to jot down what is going on in your life at the time of the dream, you’ll gain a better understanding of the parallels between your waking life and your dreaming life.
Don’t Give Up
Above all else, don’t give up. Keep recording your dreams, even if you only remember a tiny fragment. It can be tedious work at times, but it’s well worth the effort. Your dream journal will prove to be a valuable tool as you delve deeper into the world of dream symbols.