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Dreaming of Failure May Actually Be a Good Thing

Real-life applications of dream interpretation.

It’s happened to most of us: the night before a big test, presentation, or job interview, our sleep (which we so desperately need that night even more than others) is plagued by disturbing dreams in which we oversleep, miss our bus, arrive three hours late, forget our pencils, prepare the wrong material, or simply fail miserably and look like complete idiots. Not only does it keep us from getting the rest we need, it increases the likelihood of all that we fear coming true.

Now there’s evidence that this may actually be a good sign, predictive of success and not failure.

Researchers at the Sorbonne University in Paris just published the results of a study in which more than 700 people sitting the medical school entrance exam were questioned about their dreams the night preceding the exam. Over 60 percent dreamed of the exam, and more than 78 percent of those dreams were negative ones. The most commonly reported themes were not being sufficiently prepared, not finding the room, and arriving late to the exam.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that those students who dreamed of the exam the night before did better than those who did not. This was also true of the longer period leading up to the exam: the more frequently the students reported dreaming of the exam during the term that preceded it, the better their grades were.

There is a certain logic to this: the more preoccupied (and nervous!) you are about not succeeding at something, the harder you will work at it in order to prevent the bad outcome you fear. Conversely, if you aren’t worried enough, that’s likely to be reflected both in your preparations and in your dreams, which will be focused upon the things that you are.

Does this mean you should actively try and dream about messing up on your big presentation at work so as to guarantee its success? Probably not. But if you are having recurring nightmares about messing up, it may be some comfort to know that that’s likely a sign that you’ve been taking it seriously, and are more likely to succeed than if you weren’t.

Good luck!



Dennis Rosen, M.D., author of Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors And Patients.