What Dreams Mean: How To Know What Your Dreams Are Saying To You

what dreams meanDo you know what dreams mean? A big portion of people I know state that they “never” or “rarely” dream. When people do dream, it often doesn’t mean much to them. Why in the world are we gifted with the ability to dream?

I’m not able to get too much into the science and research behind dream theory here. I promise I will (one day) in the future on Fearless Men. But I just want to posit my own thoughts and experiences here and get everyone discussing. Now, I say that with hesitation because I don’t really enjoy reading websites that take anecdotal evidence as fact. So, please do your research and draw your conclusions.

What Dreams Mean – Why Am I Creating This Crazy Nonsense?

Ok. Think about this.

When you dream of yourself running from danger—say a jaguar in the night. You are actually feeling the emotion. The feel, the danger, the sensations of the run. Sight and sound. Maybe even smell and taste.

You are the actor, the main attraction of the dream. But you’re also the filmmaker. You create, populate and fill a dream as you yourself are acting in it.

Here’s what’s wild—not only are you running from the jaguar—you ARE the jaguar. Why don’t you feel that dangerous little mammal’s emotion? Why don’t you feel his desire to eat YOU? Why are you only feeling the desire to flee?

Well, I believe there is a reason why we create and fill the dream as the main actor all at the same time.

What Dreams Mean – What purpose is there behind my dream?

From reading, watching documentaries, drilling friends with questions, and taking notes on my own dreams, here’s my unscientific conclusions on the purpose of our dream state. If you’ve ever asked yourself why we possess such an advanced ability-the subconscious ability to create cinema-read on.

Dreams are…

I. A safe practice arena for physical threats

Is there any better way to practice escaping with your life than to fully engage all your senses-sight, sound, hearing, and fear and emotional stress-than in the safe arena of a dream?

We practice real life all night long.

what dreams mean

It might have scared you as a kid, but dreaming about this crazy stuff helped prepare you for a fight.

If you watch the documentary Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious you’ll hear researchers conclusions that we dream for this very reason. To practice challenging tasks. Whether it’s practicing making a speech, running from danger, resolving a conflict or playing piano, we practice real life all night long.

Here’s a real dream I had:

Dream (nightmare) begins in a room with no windows. Three men have kidnapped me. One points a gun in my face. I’m standing inside a large black suitcase. He tells me to curl up inside it. I know inside that they’re going to zip it up and keep me in a closet for days. And I don’t want to stay in a closet in such a horrible position for days (I read about this actually happening to a man-and he lived. So now I don’t read about terrible crimes right before I go to sleep).

I decide within myself I’d rather be shot than take my chances and maybe get killed anyways. So I take a risk, do some action hero stuff, take the gun, blow some brains out, and spare one guy until he tells me where they’re holding the girls (I somehow knew they’d kidnapped others). After he surrendered the info, I turned his head into a canoe. A door suddenly appeared, I called the cops, exited, and was whisked away into another dream.

What did this dream mean? Was it a spiritual foretelling? Was it just me watching too much Batman? I don’t think so. Dreams truly are a rehearsal ground for real life difficulty and danger. And it’s held in a place safe from injury and death.

II. A place to be your own shrink

In life we face daily emotional pressures and sometimes extremely tense relational conflict. This can be with a spouse, a child, a boss, co-worker or subordinate. These situations may cause us extreme stress.

A lot of times as men we don’t get the relational and emotional closure that we need from tough situations because we don’t want to process emotionally. We don’t hash it out with our bros and talk through, literally, our feelings.

That’s a sad place for a guy to be. And it shouldn’t stay that way. BUT-aha, brain to the rescue. We all dream, and we all serve as our own psychologist. Your mind may not tell you direct answers to what you should and shouldn’t do in waking life. But through a dream experience, you may practice a difficult situation—that you are convinced is real while sleeping—and wake to have found a solution or at least emotional resolution to your difficulty.

Once again, this is what dreams mean. Not always a prophecy for the future. But a safe playground to act and practice in challenging relational situations.

what dreams mean

Dreaming fosters some incredible creative space.

III.  To assimilate information

What happens to all that information our subscious absorbs throughout the day? While you’re at work you can’t pay attention to all the strange noises, sights, sounds and peripheral conversations that surround you. But your brain is absorbing much more info than you think.

In the dream state your mind takes this opportunity to identify, tag, and file away information that your brain didn’t know what to do with during the waking moments of the day.

IV. To learn and create long-term memory.

There’s a story of a musician who dreamed about a piece of music while he was sleeping. Upon waking, he searched and searched for the song. He couldn’t find what music he’d dreamt of. He played the dream music for a close friend. This friend told him that he’d never heard it before, and stated to him that he created that music in his dream.

That dreamer is Paul McCartney, and the song is “Yesterday.” Read the story here.

Do you think you never dream?

We dream all night long. Our mind doesn’t shut off once we pass out. It keeps thinking. Playing. Processing. Practicing. Non-stop. Sometimes that time is well spent practicing stuff we actually like and need to do. Sometimes your mind is rethinking events and it’s helping turn that information into a long-term memory.

what dreams mean

Dreaming up some sick music.

Once I knew how critical dreams are to memory integration, I changed the way I prepared for speaking engagements. I would read my speaking notes through a few more times immediately before I went to bed the night before. I adhered to the theory that I would think upon the content at night while I slept. And the content would be even more embedded within me as I was presenting the next day.

Read more about memory integration here.

What dreams mean – Are they a reflection or something more?

I truly believe that dreams aren’t only a reflection of our real lives, but they are “real” life. Listen, I’m not a granola chomping hippie. Dreams don’t exist outside of the dreamers experience. But because the dreamer experiences them, they are as real as waking moments. They are something we are truly experiencing.

It’s important to understand that you are the director and the player within the dream. In fact, you are the player of every character within a dream. If you have a conversation with your wife in a dream, you are not only playing yourself, you are actually having a conversation with yourself. You are acting as your very own wife!

I subscribe to the theory that dreams are the safe place for us to practice dangerous circumstances and emotionally challenging situations. Whether it’s running away from a panther or resolving a tough emotional situation at work. Dreams are essential to us excelling in life.

I haven’t found much direct insight from my dreams, but it has brought me emotional resolution. Once I’ve figured out why and how I feel and behave a certain way within a dream, it certainly helps me figure out when/where/why I should make certain decisions. It helps unlock what dreams mean.

Your dreams aren’t just a reflection of you. They ARE you. It’s tough for many people to remember their dreams. But when you do, write it down. Give it some thought. Chew on what you made up and directed in the cinema of your subconscious that night. I believe you’ll find some revealing insight about what makes you tick.


  1. Good post. I really don’t remember much of what I ever dream about. I actually dream quite a bit in German as I used to be fluent in it. My wife, on the other hand, is always telling me about some crazy whacked out dream she’s had recently. She is the more creative of the two of us, so it really does not surprise me.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Wow, you dream in German? I’ve asked other bi-lingual people before what they typically dream in and some of them “remember” that they dream more often in the language they are no using as frequently. I haven’t seen any “data” on that, but I wonder if your brain is practicing the lesser used language at night? Take my thoughts with a grain of salt!

  2. I’m pretty intrigued by dreams. It is definitely a lot more than our subconscious randomly wandering. There is reasons why we have certain dreams. The side of it I find particularly interesting is when there is symbolism. Like I don’t particularly like heights but I’ve had several dreams that I remember relating to heights. Well there’s theory that it’s a lot more than me practicing dealing with heights: http://www.experienceproject.com/dream-dictionary/Afraid-Of-Heights-dreams

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Wow, thanks for directing me to this site! I do wonder what sort of research goes into drawing common-thread conclusions about what dreams mean. Do you believe your stretching for goals beyond your reach?

  3. stephanie k says

    Well done, Todd! Some good reasons I should make an effort to think about the few dreams I remember.

  4. I remember my dreams all the time. I think I’m just so eager to experience things that my brain makes me keep going even when I’m asleep. Haha. I’m not sure what I should learn from Harrison Ford being my mob boss…but there are some dreams I gain meaning from. Like a reoccurring nightmare I have every few years. Each time I have the dream I die a different way…but the thing is I don’t wake up when I die. Instead I’m still dreaming, yet rushing through blackness. I can feel myself being propelled forward- but I can’t see anything. In the past when I’ve had this dream that point was always terrifying- as though I didn’t know what i was rushing towards. But the last time I had that dream, with each moment that I rushed forward I felt more and more anticipation because I knew that at any moment I would see Him! My Savior! I couldn’t wait!- and then I woke up…and was disappointed that it was a dream. Haha. I’m not sure exactly what that means…maybe that I’m now more ok with the thought of death…or maybe that I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with Him, but it was nice to see that positive change in a previously disturbing dream.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Wow-that is some deep stuff! So, Harrison has been your mob boss in a dream?? I wish you could invite me into that dream. Was he dressed like Han?

      As for not waking up when you die in a dream, I have heard before, and I don’t have the data or link to back this up, that means that you are at peace with yourself – therefore at peace with death.

  5. Thanks Todd, dreams can be fun, adventurous and terrifying. Dreams can also be very symbolic. I have found that when i have had a dream that really impacted me that writing it down and praying about it helps me processes.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      That’s a great idea. I think if I began writing down my dreams it certainly would help me identify a pattern.

  6. This is a very interesting article.

    Anytime I have a really memorable dream, I try to write down all the details that I can remember.

    I’ve had dreams that where I saw family members or friends that had passed away, and it doesn’t seem the least bit unusual to be talking to them again. But, when I wake up I experience a warm feeling thinking about having seen them again.

    When I write it down, I can re-read what I have written later, and re-experience that same warm feeling.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Thanks Terry!
      That’s great that you get to “reconnect” with family members in dreams. I recently saw my Papa who passed in 2002. I was so overjoyed, but as soon as I realized something was wrong, that I shouldn’t be able to see him, the dream changed locations/subjects! It was like my mind was too shocked to continue processing that.

  7. Interesting article Todd.
    Freud once said that dreams are a form of fulfilling suppressed wishes therefore you need to “shut down” your brain in order for you to have those wishes fulfilled. For instance, if you go to bed feeling thirsty you’ll probably dream something related to water or any other liquid. That’s a simple and modest example when it comes to Freud but be meant more like the deeper and forbidden thoughts. I do believe though that they can induce you to see things that are going unnoticed to you when you’re awake so take for example when you dream that you are dying or that you lost a beloved one, I would interpret that I need to change my life or spend more time with people I’m close to. Our brain is an intriguing puzzle.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Mirian you’ve got to watch the documentary on the Inception Blu-Ray!! Actually, some of the dream experts disagree with a lot of what Freud concluded about dreams. But since you love Inception, I know you’ll enjoy it.

  8. I agree about all this! Awesome post, man, and for all thsoe dreams we dont’ remember (I don’t really remember any of my dreams) I bet they still have purpose. We’re assimilating, like you said, and so we don’t remember it, but it’s still happening and helping us for when we’re awake. Right?

    • Todd Mayfield says

      I agree! I was reading recently that researchers believe dreams help with memory retention. I remember in this college study course it was suggested that you read what was most important to remember right before you go to bed. I’m sure there are some that would argue against that (b/c of tiredness), but the reasoning was you would think about that recent reading as you slept.

  9. I try very hard to remember my dreams in the morning, I think you are free to dream whereas during the day you have to be that person that you created for yourself. So at night you can let go and tell your mind things that you would otherwise refrain.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      That’s an interesting way to think about it. I do wonder if in dreams our true, unadulterated self comes alive.

  10. Hi Ive been having this really wierd dream and it seems to be confusing me quite a bit latley …….Im engaged and have a year old son and im verry happy with my life and how it is ,But Ive had this dream of this mysterious man who ive never meet before or seen but in my dream we seem to have a connection a very strong one at that he seems very kind gentle caring in my dreams he handsome and his features are soft and gentle but i dont seem to knoe his name or how we meet in my dream we just apear in a room talking holding each other as if we were married but its not my fiance …i have been dreaming of this man alot lately and its just very confusing i dont understand why i would be having this dream if im happy with my fiance and son ……most of all i cant stop thinking of this person it puzzles me …..it feels like hes really out there some where …..help anyone i need to know what it might mean ..

    • Tink,

      I am no expert. But two scenarios come to mind:

      a) Do you believe this is a sort of spiritual or “prophetic” dream
      b) Do you feel you are uneasy or hesitant about a lifelong commitment with the person?

      If you believe this is a dream from God, I’m not a dream interpreter and I don’t think I have advice. But if this dream is your way of reason inner uneasiness, I doubt that the person you see in this dream is someone you know or that even exists. You’re just seeing a perfect “personification” of a man, something women would find irresistible.

      Our dreams can’t represent all the layers, faults and blessings of a person. So you are only seeing the upside of the Dream Man. But if he were real, he most certainly would have great imperfections.

      A person can’t give you concrete answers about your dreams. They can only listen, ask questions, and be there as you process.

      Let me know how this all goes!


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