Wouldn’t it be nice if our dreams were like a crystal ball that foretold our future? That every night as we slumbered, we’d learn if we’re going to get a raise, or win the lottery, or, if you’re like soccer player John Brooks, find out you will use your head to score a last-minute goal in a World Cup game?
Last night, the soccer player scored a goal in the 86th minute, which was an unlikely turn of events because he was not a starting player—in fact, he’s a back-up defender, and defenders hardly ever get substituted. When asked about the goal, he said he dreamed it—even the part about it being after the 80-minute mark and using his head to get the ball in the goal.
Of course his dream was not literally “predictive” but it begs the question: Can dreams prime us for success in waking life?
Dreams a combination of what we have already experienced and the things that occupy our minds during the day, says Antonio Zadra, professor of psychology at University of Montreal who studies dreams. “People have dreams related to their current concerns and preoccupations,” says Zadra. “In all of these players’ cases, [playing in the World Cup] is an ongoing drive, so it’s not surprising that it impinges on their dreams.” And Brooks, like any good player, would likely want to prove his prowess on the field, making it likely that would show up in his dreams. And it makes sense that he dreamed of making the goal in the 80th minute, late in the game, since he isn’t part of the starting lineup.
Still, says Zadra, dreams can be self-fulfilling. Similar to the way that visualization works, Zadra says that having positive dreams can feed into real-life outcomes. “During REM sleep, all the areas of the brain responsible for controlling motor behavior are activated as if you were awake,” he says. “If you are dreaming of skiing or scoring a goal or playing the piano, your brain is actually commanding all the motor areas as if you were awake.” Part of the brain stem inhibits the actual movement so you don’t hurt yourself while you sleep, but as far as your brain is concerned, you “live” whatever you dream.
“If Brooks dreamed that he scored the goal, all of that feeds into his instinctive reactions, and it’s one more positive thing going into the instinctive and instantaneous decisions that he makes on the pitch.”
Of course, the flip side is that negative experiences in dreamland can have make you feel less confident and potentially less capable in waking life. So while it’s not exactly “scientific, “what your first coach and your parents always told you is probably good advice: think positive, and good things will happen. Maybe.
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