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Problem Solving While Dreaming

The idea came to me in a dream. I was explaining the "add-subtract-change" problem solving technique, having apparently just invented it in that dream. I had never heard of it before, but previously, while awake, I had been working on my book Problem Solving Power. This new technique turned out to be very useful when I tried it. It's an idea that has undoubtedly been thought of by others, but it was unknown to me until that moment.

I've had this happen before. Story ideas have come to me in a dream, and solutions to problems. When I was younger, I invented a way to sail my sled on the Lake Michigan ice in my dream. When the wind started up the next morning, I tried it for real and it worked.

Perhaps you've solved problems and have had new ideas in your dreams as well. There's no doubt that it happens, but how do we make it happen more often? Try some of the following.

Ideas in a Dream

- Keep pencil (or pen) and paper by the side of the bed. Note any ideas you have when you first wake up. This process encourages your mind to generate even more ideas. A tape recorder by the bedside is even better. You can use it without a light and quickly go back to sleep.

- Work on the problem a lot. A period of intense mental work on a problem before sleep, "instructs" the subconscious mind that this is important, and it will continue to work on the problem during sleep.

- Write the problem down, and write down what qualities the solution may have, just before going to sleep. dreams often utilize real-life elements from the latter part of the time before sleep.

- Practice on simple problems. Get yourself to imagine a new kind of furniture, or a new poem in a dream.

- Turn off the alarm. Wake up without an alarm, and you are more likely to remember your dreams. If you need an alarm for work, do your problem solving in dreams over the weekend.

- When you first wake up, lay still and review any dreams you can recall. This "sets" them in your mind, so you won't forget them. Later you can think back on them, to see if there is anything useful there.

- Try sleeping on the floor or in another slightly uncomfortable way (try this one when you don't have to work the next day). The repeated waking up and going back to sleep creates the opportunities to remember more dreams. I took notes on nine dreams in one night this way. I also had two good ideas from them.

The best ideas may not come in a dream. Often good ideas and solutions to problems come after you wake up. Reviewing the problem mentally in the morning can encourage this process.

Are these techniques scientifically "proven." Not yet. It's tough to scientifically measure the "value" of an idea, or try to say what counts as an idea, in order to see if the frequency increases when using these little tricks. But people have had productive dreams for thousands of years, and there is nothing harmful in trying to find an answer while sleeping.

Why not try it tonight?

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