Are you faced with a difficult decision, a crisis in your business or personal life, or a sticky problem you just can't seem to solve? Try looking for the answer in your dreams.

It may sound a bit like leaving a tooth and hoping for money from the Tooth Fairy, but using your dream state to explore your real-world problems can be surprisingly effective, according to Judith Orloff, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. "The song 'Yesterday' came to Paul McCartney in a dream," she says. "The sewing machine was invented in a dream. I've had clients get absolutely clear answers from asking questions in a dream."

It's worked for Orloff herself, too. "A dream told me to go to medical school at a time when I had dropped out of school and was working in the towel department of a department store," she recalls. There was only one problem--she didn't want to. "Both my parents were doctors and I came from a line of 25 physicians. I was more artistic and creative."

But the dream was very clear and Orloff was learning to trust her own intuition, so she enrolled in one community college course just to see how it went. It went well and she kept going until 14 years later she'd completed her medical training. "The dream led me to my destiny as a physician who integrates intuition and spirituality into my work," she says now. "Dreams can guide you in your career path and help you maximize your potential and find your destiny too."

Are you ready to give it a try? (And--really--what do you have to lose?) Here are Orloff's steps for accessing your own dream wisdom:

1. Ask yourself a question.

"Ask a question before you go to sleep so you're programming your dreams to respond to it," Orloff says. "It is best to ask one specific question. For instance, 'How can I communicate with my boss?' 'How can I increase my income?' 'What's blocking me from being more successful?'" Ask only one question at a time, she adds. More will just confuse things.

2. Don't wake up too fast.

Most of us have lots more dreams than we think, we just don't remember them. So Orloff offers a technique to help you remember more of your dreams. The trick is to stay in the state between sleeping and waking, called the hypnogogic state, for a little while each morning, Orloff says. "Plan to have 5 to 10 minutes in bed before you fully wake up and stay in the hypnogogic state," she says. "Just stay silent for the 5-10 minutes and see what images impressions, knowings, guidance come." This is often a time when you will remember your dreams very clearly.

3. Set a notebook by your bed.

Once you've remembered a dream, Orloff says, "Write it down immediately in a dream journal so you don't forget." To make this easy, keep a pad or notebook by your bed, along with a pen. Or you could try voice-recording your dreams.

4. Set a regular sleep schedule.

Is there anything you can do to remember more of your dreams? "The more regular your sleep patterns, the more able you will be to program yourself to spend time in the hypnogogic state," Orloff says. "Alert your spouse and others not to disturb you during this time." Don't talk to anyone either, and don't get up right away, start answering emails, or check the weather. Just stay silent and see what comes.

5. Repeat the same question for a week.

Ask yourself that same question every night for seven nights. By the end of that time, you should have some clarity on the answer. What if your dreams don't seem to relate to your question--or don't even make much sense, as dreams so often don't?

"It's very important to look at the emotional content of the dream," Orloff says. "If you feel anxiety, that reflects how you are feeling in waking life. If you feel joy, the dream is showing you what you are capable of. The mood of the dream is part of your answer."

And with seven nights of dreaming, you may have seven answers to work with. "Correlate the responses you get," Orloff says. "I've had patients who've gotten absolutely clear answers in their dreams using this technique."

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Published on: Dec 17, 2014