Reality checks are the act of consciously checking the environment for signs that you are dreaming. The intention of this exercise is to do it enough that the action becomes automatic, thereby causing one to reality check within a dream. A reality check often takes the form of a simple action that is likely to result in a different outcome depending on whether or not one is in a dream.
If performing this task at regular intervals or when dream signs occur, it is possible to train one's mind to better recognize the dream state. A reality check can result in a DILD when done successfully, as the dreamer realizes they are dreaming and sustains that awareness through stabilization techniques.
In order to determine whether or not one is dreaming, it is necessary to develop a habit of performing frequent reality checks. A reality check simply involves asking questions, such as "am I dreaming?" or "is this a dream?" alongside a specific action which is capable of determining if one is awake or asleep.
As most people are not in the habit of asking themselves "am I dreaming?" while in the midst of a dream, it is necessary to train oneself into the habit of regularly questioning reality. By training oneself to habitually question reality during waking life, the habit will eventually carry over to dreaming life and ultimately one will find themselves posing the question while dreaming. When this happens, the odds of realizing one is within a dream increase and thus further increases the odds of achieving lucidity.
In order to gain the best results possible, these reality checks should be performed habitually every time the situation changes and on a daily basis. For example, every time one walks through a door or enters a new environment a reality check should be performed. Every time one talks to a new person or simply remembers that they may well be dreaming a reality check should be performed. If this is done 10 - 30 times a day the habit will quickly spill over into one's own dreams.
There are many ways one both remind themselves to reality check, as well as perform the reality check itself, here are some suggestions to do so categorized by the ways in which they work.
- Nonsensical literature - Some books, such as James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" and Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of leaves" do a remarkable job of emulating various components of how books tend to act in dreams. Such books and/or passages from them can serve both as examples of dream signs and triggers to remember to reality check.
- Surrealist art - The surrealist movement was a direct attempt by artists to replicate the paradoxical experiences they had while dreaming into various physical media. A major player in the early movement, André Breton, summarized its aim in the following quote: "I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak." For this reason many works of surrealist art can serve both as examples of dream signs, and triggers to remind one to perform reality checks.
- Optical illusions - Such objects and images will often act in a seemingly paradoxical way that is not easily explainable. Similar phenomena can occur in dreams due to the lack of external stimuli to stabilize complex patterns and thus can serve both as examples of dream signs and triggers to remind one to perform reality checks.
- Notes to self - An excellent way to remind oneself to perform reality checks is to put notes containing messages such as "are you dreaming?" or "perform a reality check" in places which one frequently looks at throughout the day. For example, putting a visible note by a frequently used computer screen, writing a message on one's hand or changing one's desktop wallpaper to the image found on the right will greatly improve general lucidity.
- Phone/watch alarm* - By setting an alarm on your phone or watch to go off at regular times a day as a reminder to reality check one can greatly increase the chances of imagining the alarm going off in a dream and reminding one to perform a reality check. Phones are good for this as one can sometimes get the alarm to display a message on the screen such as the ones seen in "Notes to self". Either words from the phone alarm or the numbers on a digital watch can both be useful for the method seen in "Double taking / rereading text and clocks" which makes this a very powerful method in combination.
Refer to the dream signs page to find an extensive list of common signs that you may be dreaming, these can be adapted into your own surrealist art, or serve as triggers to remember to reality check, as dream signs are things that commonly occur in dreams and thus serve as an accurate indicator that might be the case.
- Double taking / rereading text and clocks - During a dream, if one decides to read text or check the time on a clock, upon further examination it will be shown to have changed or be unreadable. This means that every time one looks away and looks back, the information will change repeatedly, appear as nonsensical or never keep still. This can be used to determine whether or not one is dreaming very reliably.
- Pushing one's thumb into the palm of their hand - During a dream, if one is to push their thumb into the palm of their other hand and exert pressure, it will pass straight through the hand and come out onto the other side. This can be used to determine whether or not one is dreaming very reliably.
- Counting fingers - During a dream, if one is to look at their hand and attempt to count their fingers, they will quickly realize it is impossible. The amount of fingers may constantly change or simply remain somehow intrinsically uncountable. This can be used to determine whether or not one is dreaming very reliably.
- Pinching one's nose and breathing - During a dream, if one tightly pinches their nose shut and attempts to breath, they will find that they can breath through their nose as normal regardless. This can be used to determine whether or not one is dreaming very reliably.