How to get awesome dream incubation results

How to get awesome dream incubation results

If you ever need to make a difficult choice, ask your dreams to help you. 

The process is called “dream incubation” and it can help you find answers, life direction, heal illnesses or find creative solutions.

I discovered this accidentally years ago when my grandfather  gave me a thousand dollars to buy a pottery wheel, but I didn’t know which one to buy. 

There were two types of pottery wheels. One was white and aesthetically pleasing, but made of plastic. The other was sturdy, sporting a steel frame, but ugly with a mustard yellow coating.

Beauty and design meant a lot to me.

So did quality.

I had to choose between aesthetics and durability, and as silly as my choice seemed, I was at a total loss about what to do.

That night I had a dream:

I am presented with several potter’s wheels and I need to choose one. I choose the steel frame option because it will last a lifetime.

I woke up with clarity, no doubt in my mind that I’d buy the steel frame model.

Dream incubation can help you make tough decisions

If you’re not familiar with the concept, dream incubation is the process of asking a question and then dreaming a solution.

Many dreamers use a simple, three step dream incubation process:

  1. they ask a question prior to going to bed
  2. dream
  3. then process the imagery (rinse and repeat for a few days)

Some add a fourth step which is to create a dream charm in order to help deepen the experience.

This three or four step process works well, too.

In fact, according to Harvard dream researcher Dr. Barrett, about 50% of those who follow this technique will incubate dreams related to their question. 70% of those people will dream a solution.

What I’ve discovered over the past couple months, though, is that there is a way to increase the response rate.

The trick is to fully immerse yourself into whatever it is you want to know more about.

It’s a holistic process that encompasses more than sleeping and dreams.  Instead, it includes:

  • crafting a clear intention in the form of a question you want answered
  • actively immersing yourself in the topic of interest through research, writing or any other activity
  • being hyper aware, noticing how and when the theme of your intention appears in waking life
  • cultivating sleeping dreams around that intention (following the above outline)
  • recording dreams for weeks (even months) and noticing themes

Do this and your whole life may shift.

You may suddenly see things you didn’t see before.

Related blog posts, videos, and articles may appear as if by magic.

You might overhear conversations about your topic.

Or “hear” answers in your head while day dreaming.

And of course, you’re likely to have sleeping dreams about your theme, too.

This is certainly my experience, and anecdotal as it may be, I am not alone in having it.

Numerous famous inventions were created in part by people who were deeply immersed in a topic, only to dream imagery that led to the solution.

In the dream, Howe is being held captive by African cannibals. As he tries to escape from a boiling cauldron, the natives poke spears at him to keep him in place.

When Howe woke from his nightmare he recalled an odd addition to the spears: they all had holes on their tips. As he came fully awake, Howe realized this was the solution to his sewing needle problem.

But the question researchers like to ask is, “Was Howe’s famous dream an actual solution to his problem, or did his waking mind fill in the blanks?”

In other words, was Howe only inspired by the dream scene or did the dream provide a definitive solution?”

What I’d like to suggest is that it doesn’t matter.

Howe invented the perfect sewing machine needle, and whether or not his dream came to him as the perfect solution or just inspirational imagery, he got the solution anyway, clearly inspired by the dream.

How to get awesome dream incubation results

To illustrate further, I’ll use myself as an example.

Before we started discussing what whale dreams mean, I hadn’t had a whale dream in years.

Shortly after we started talking about whales, though, I had two whale dreams, both were quite profound.

The first dream came the night I asked the question, “What message is trying to come through our whale dreams?”

I dreamed that my cat had a whale rib cage stuck in his mouth.

But the dreams continued even though I stopped asking the question.

I was unintentionally incubating dreams.

This is what I did:

I wrote one blog post about my whale dream.

I discussed whale dreams with friends, even sharing my “whale dream envy” because I’d never dreamed about swimming with whales or making deep eye contact with dolphins like other people had.

I edited nearly a dozen whale related posts written by the other Dream Team members.

I read and replied to over a hundred whale related dreams and comments shared by DreamTribe members.

I researched other websites, looking for information and insight into whales and whale dreams.

And as a result, I had dream after dream that appeared to be a response to the original question “what is the whales’ message.”

(I even had a dream about playing with a dolphin, making beautiful and meaningful eye-contact and then seeing an ocean full of humpback whales. I no longer have whale/dolphin dream envy!)

How to get awesome dream incubation results

But one dream, which feels integrally related, didn’t have a single whale in it.

Instead, it was about pollution, specifically about how automobile gasoline is killing the water.

Considering all of this, and reflecting on other Big dreamers like Elias Howe, it seems clear that total immersion in a topic will elicit helpful dreams.

We only need to pay attention and be open to the possibility that our dreams are guiding us.

Here are some more hints about dream incubation:

  1. After you create an intention, record your dreams for weeks, even months.
  2. Pick one question or intention to contemplate and focus on it for awhile.  Immerse yourself in the theme.
  3. Your dreams may not reflect literal imagery related to your question. Instead, they may be metaphoric. Don’t look for the obvious, literal answer. Use your dreams like divination tools.
  4. When you want to dream solutions to problems the last thing you want is to get cryptic dream messages! I’ve had success incubating straight forward, more literal dreams by saying, “My intention is to dream about ______. Please send a dream I can easily understand!”
  5. Invite a friend to incubate dreams on your behalf, or do the same for a friend and share the results. Two people dreaming about one topic will double your results!

More resources:

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing
How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?
Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

“Dream genealogy” is a process that uses sleeping dreams and shamanic journeying to gather ancestral information.

I discovered this process several years ago when my dreams were urging me to explore my British Isles ancestry.

As a result, I unearthed a lineage filled with hope, war, death, and eventually rebirth.

It all began in 2007 at a workshop entitled “Reclaiming the Ancient Dreamways,” led by active dreamer, Robert Moss. During the retreat I had a very real shamanic dream experience, one that engaged my physical senses to an extreme I’d never experienced in the dream realm. It went as follows:

I am on the top deck of a ship that resembles the Mayflower. There is a misty dampness in the air that moistens my skin.

My ancestor, Jonathan Padelford (1628-1669), and an American Indian who identifies himself as Meeshkawa, possibly Wampanoag, are standing before me.

We touch hands and I can feel the warmth of their skin as though they are real flesh and blood. They speak rapidly, anxiously pleading for my assistance to help heal our collective lineages by reclaiming the ancient ways and honoring our ancestors.

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

We hold arms as a sign of fidelity and I vow to do my best to honor their request.

Their pleas and desperation are full of grief. So many lives were lost in battles, so many deceased souls lost in despair.

I awaken, full of tears.

When I returned home from the workshop I started researching my ancestors and their connection to the American Indians in the 1600s. As I followed the threads of every lead I could imagine, an old dream memory surfaced. The dream felt significant, like a key to my ancestral mystery, so I dug out a box of old dream journals, dusted off the covers and began to search. I was nervous I wouldn’t find the dream amidst my twenty years worth of journals, but as luck had it, I did.

Interestingly, it turns out I had the dream on September 6, 1991. It was the second dream I ever recorded in a journal devoted exclusively to dreams.

Thanksgiving Day Massacre

I am on a paddlewheel boat with a swing stage. White men are shooting American Indians who wear red face and body paint. Dead Indian bodies are lying everywhere on shore. From the boat I yell in despair, “What are you doing? These are people, too!”

I am devastated by the loss of lives.

In the next scene it is Thanksgiving. The Indians are now dressed like the white people, but when it comes time to eat they are sent to a basement that is dank and gloomy.  I go to the basement with them and we sit on the floor while we share a meal together. The white people remain upstairs.

In the last scene it is a year later and Thanksgiving again. The Indians are sent to the basement, but this time it is bright and warm with carpeting and furniture. We eat together again and I try to assure them that it will get progressively better. “Next year we will have a table,” I say.

Still in the dream, I have a vision of the future. I see everyone eating together, upstairs, at the same table. We are equals now, living in harmony as brothers and sisters. I hold the vision and know that I am instrumental in helping it come to pass.

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

After waking from the dream I was not certain if my dream self was a white girl or Indian. Of course, dreams are often full of paradox and oddities so it’s entirely possible I was both.

Regardless, the dream helped anchor my “dream genealogy” into waking life reality, giving me imagery I could use in my research. There were three aspects of the dream that felt significant:

  1. The Indians had distinct red face and body paint
  2. The white people were on a paddlewheel boat with a swing stage
  3. Thanksgiving was a central theme

The paddlewheel boat was an easy image to understand. In 1969, the year after I was born, my grandfather started a paddlewheel boat business and named it “Padelford Boat Co.” The first boat was named “Jonathan Padelford” after my 12th great grandfather, the same great grandfather I dreamed of at Esalen. On the waking life paddlewheel boat there is a swing stage, identical to the one in my dream. Considering this, I came to assume the white people on the dream boat were my ancestors.

As I researched my dream images, I discovered a clan of American Indians, the Wampanoag, who were known to early settlers as the “red men” because they painted their faces and bodies with a red pigment. This was exactly the image I had in my dream.

Not only did the Wampanoag live near my colonial ancestors in Massachusetts, the two lineages are intertwined with each other in deeply unsettling ways.

The Wampanoag, as you may remember from grammar school history class, are famous for the hospitality they bestowed upon the Pilgrims. The Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims survive their first harsh New England winter. According to legend, the two groups shared a harvest festival together, a feast of corn and other foods the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims cultivate. It is said that this festival eventually became Thanksgiving.

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

In 1991, when I had the Thanksgiving Massacre dream, I was completely unaware of my ancestors’ involvement in the plight of the Pilgrims. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I discovered I am very likely a direct descendent of the Pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower in 1620.  Not only that, but if the lineage proves to be true, my 12th great grandmother, Susanna White, whose family married into the Padelford line, was one of only four adult women who survived the first winter and subsequently experienced the famous Thanksgiving feast.

Susanna’s son Resolved was only a child of 4 or 5 when they landed in Plymouth, and he has the distinct honor of being the older brother of Pelegrine, the first white child to be born on this continent.

As I write this I feel an overwhelming surge of emotion welling up in me. It’s a mix of sorrow and awe that stirs my blood.

But sadly, Thanksgiving is not the only common history my ancestors share with the Wampanoag.

The following events would probably not be very interesting if it were not for what happened in 1675: My ancestor Jonathan Padelford died in 1660 leaving behind several children and his wife Mary. Mary remarried Thomas Ames and together they had several children.

When Jonathan’s eldest son, Jonathan Padelford the II, was a young man of 19, the trust between the Wampanoag and the colonists finally crumbled. The King Phillip’s War, named after the English nickname bestowed upon the Wampanoag Sachem (chief) Metacom, began in 1675 and lasted over a year.

Dream Genealogy & Deep Ancestral Healing

It was the Wampanoag my ancestors fought against in a brutal battle that nearly decimated all involved. The King Philips war of 1675-6 was a bloody war, leaving few behind to tell the tale.

Of the several Padelfords who lived in the area, only two survived the war. Of the two surviving Padelford brothers, only Jonathan had children. I am his direct descendant.

The pain, the deep seated grief, was real and true for all people involved – Pilgrims, Wampanoag, Pequot, Nipmuc. And even though it was hundreds of years ago, the memory lives still in our bones, in our dreams, and can revisit us as though it was yesterday.

What this experience has taught me is that dreams are not only symbols hoping to be decoded. They can carry with them a legacy of pain and suffering that extends generations deep, living and sitting in our blood and bones until someone is born who is called to heal the ancestral lineage.

I honor all the ancestors, whether they were blood relatives or joined my destiny through bloody battles. I grieve deeply for my Pilgrim ancestors whose one dream was to find a place of their own to call home, and for the First Nations people whose home was destroyed in the process.

May their souls find peace.

Also checkout: How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

Many dreamers are affected by the energy in and around their bedroom. In fact, just the other night, while sleeping over at a friend’s house, I had the experience of incorporating her alarm clock- a new sound to me- into my dream. Lights, sounds or the people nearby us when we sleep, and even the bedroom itself can subtly influence our dreaming.

We can also consciously set up a sleeping environment to effect and enhance our dreaming. One of my favorite ways to do this is with plants, or what we herbalists refer to as: “sleeping with herbs.”

Mugwort: The Dream Herb

The plant most associated with dreaming is mugwort, artemisia vulgaris. Named after the Greek moon goddess, Artemis, mugwort is sacred and revered wherever it grows. Like its botanical relative, sagebrush, mugwort has a long use in folk medicine for cleansing and protection.

An old Summer Solstice tradition among the Slavic people of Poland was to make huge bonfires of mugwort. Everyone in the village, including the animals, would pass through the smoke of mugwort to protect themselves from negative energies such as illness or the evil eye.

Mugwort is also one of the most renowned plants for dreaming. Mugwort can enhance dreams and assist with dream recall. It is a great plant to work with if you have a difficult time remembering your dreams. It can also increase the vividness of dreams. I’ve heard many reports of mugwort giving the dreamer vibrant, technicolor “Alice in Wonderland” type dreams.

How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

Healing Dream Ally

Mugwort, which I like to call “the queen of medicinal herbs” is a great ally to support your practice of healing dream incubation. Mugwort is a principal herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as moxibustion. The herb is safely burned near or on the body to stimulate energy in the acupuncture points and meridians. According to TCM, the energy of mugwort is identical to that of the human body.

As a healing herb, mugwort has great potential to assist in our healing when we are both awake and asleep. Try incorporating mugwort into your practice of incubating healing dreams. This powerful herbal ally can help to potentiate the healing you receive on many levels in your dreams.

However, for people who already have very active dream states, mugwort may be too powerful of an herb to work with. Sometimes dreaming with mugwort can translate to a night of non-stop, active dreaming- the kind of night that leaves you tired in the morning. I once woke up in the middle of the night and tossed my stalk of mugwort out of my bedroom. My dreams that night were incredibly vivid and intense and I felt like I just needed a good night’s sleep!

How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

There are several ways you can incorporate mugwort into your dreamtime. One is to simply put a piece of the plant, fresh or dried, on your altar or under your pillow. Or you could sew a mugwort dream pillow. Another option is to take a 3-5 drops of a mugwort tincture before going to bed. You can also try drinking mugwort tea, but it tastes too bitter for most people.

Mugwort is also a good plant to use as smudge (incense). If you smudge your bedroom with mugwort before going to bed, you are guaranteed to notice the effect in your dreams.

Do not take mugwort internally if you are pregnant or nursing. Mugwort has a powerfully stimulating effect on the uterus and can cause uterine contractions and possibly miscarriage in early pregnancy. In this case, it is best to work with mugwort as a smudge, dream pillow or as an object on your altar.

Chamomile: A Remedy for Nightmares

Chamomile is an incredible plant with many healing benefits to the physical body. It can help us with sleep and dreams.

Chamomile is a great ally for alleviating nightmares. If you are plagued with bad dreams, try drinking some chamomile tea before bed or placing some chamomile under your pillow. A chamomile bath before bed is a lovely way to prepare for a good, peaceful night’s rest. Simply fill a muslin bag or an old clean sock with a handful of chamomile and add it to a hot bath. Relax, enjoy and soak in the medicine!

Chamomile can be especially helpful to help relieve nightmares in children. As adults, we may have enough understanding of dreams to know that nightmares can be helpful messages from our psyche. However, to a child a scary dream monster may just be plain scary and can seriously interfere in their ability to sleep. In this case, chamomile can give us the courage to face and transform our frightening dreams.

How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

An Herbal Ally for Treating Insomnia

Chamomile is very nourishing and relaxing to the nervous system and can be very useful to prevent and treat insomnia. Chamomile helps us to relax the tension we hold in our physical body. If pain or stiffness is keeping you awake at night, you might want to try drinking a cup of chamomile tea or taking a bath with it before bed.

Chamomile is also very healing to the emotions. It helps to relieve fear and anxiety that may be keeping you awake at night. In this case, the tea, tincture or bath of chamomile might be helpful. Another suggestion is to make a dream pillow of chamomile of put a few drops of chamomile essential oil on your pillow so you are able to inhale the healing scent of the plant all night long.

How Have You Dreamed with Plants?

Many other plants can have a healing effect on our dream state. I will continue to write about this topic in future posts and welcome your stories about dreaming with plants.

More to read: Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

It is my contention that we are all nature dreamers. By that I mean each of us, whether we are cognizant of it or not, dreams on behalf of nature. Sometimes the message is clear, sometimes it is shrouded in symbolism and metaphor. Those of us who are more connected with nature during waking are likely more aware that this level of dreaming is going on, but nonetheless, I believe each of us is tapped into nature’s psyche because of the nature (pun intended) of interconnectedness.

Here is a startling example of how nature inhabits our dreams, straight from my own dreams.

On July 31, 2010 I had the following dream:

I am in a cozy cabin with a fire n the fireplace. I settle in and feel good, but there is a nagging feeling in the background. I look at the view — I see the Golden Gate Bridge and the sun setting, but something feels off. Then a huge, luminous, gorgeous tidal wave sweeps toward me. It is so beautiful! Illuminated from the inside and turquoise and green. It is also scary. Then a goddess in a yellow dress appears in the room with me. I know she is the sun. She stands in front of me and says, “Jump!”

Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

The next day, solar storms occurred on the sun. It’s important to note that I knew nothing of the solar activity before I went to bed the night before. I heard about the solar storms when I arrived at work.

The storms affected the magnetic field of the planet, causing gorgeous aurora borealis visible by many people on Earth. Pictures of the aurora that I saw featured colors that reminded me exactly of the tidal wave in the dream.

There are many other hints within the dream that point to the solar event: the fire, the Golden Gate Bridge, the tsunami, the sun goddess. In waking life, scientists called the storms solar tsunamis. NASA reported a C3-class solar flare (the white area on upper left of the image above) and a solar tsunami (the wave-like structure in the upper right of the image above) on August 1, among other solar events.

Of course, the dream had personal significance for me as well (I believe most, if not all, dreams have several layers of meaning). But it is clear that my dream hints at the sun’s activity.

Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

Here’s a second, more recent example.

On December 20, 2010 I had this dream: I am in a field in a town. I am watching hundreds of chickens hatch and rapidly grow to little chicks. I watch their mothers gather their babies. Then almost all of them get taken away to be eaten. It makes me sad. Somehow I have a part in all of it. After everything is gone, someone returns with two chicks and their mom. They drop the chickens in the middle of the field where all the chickens used to be. I can see panic, terror, and sadness in the mother’s eyes as she realizes what happened. She gathers her two chicks under her breast to protect them. I’m told these are my chickens and I can start a new colony with them.

That morning when I got to work I read this news story about 400,000 chicks killed by a bankrupt poultry farm in Russia. These aren’t the only chickens to die at this farm; 600,000 others have died of malnutrition and three million more could face the same fate. Its death on a massive scale and a grim picture of how broken our food system has become.

Nature Dreaming: Dreaming for the Earth

What strikes me as I compare the dream to the story is the deep sadness attached to both. In the story, the writer reports that the workers charged with killing the chicks “wept as they carried out their task.” My dream self also felt that sorrow as I watched the chicks being taken away. The “panic, terror, and sadness” the hen shows in the dream also speaks to the overwhelming emotion of the situation in Russia.

I wonder if the survival of the two chicks and the hen in my dream says something about the possibility of a few of the Russian chickens living through the brutality. Perhaps the dream’s ending is meant to show us a better way: a few chickens for each family rather than massive farms where animals are inevitably mistreated.

To figure out if you’re nature dreaming, write down your dreams in the morning and then keep tabs on the environmental news each day to see if events or themes match those in your dreams. And let me know if they do!

Other articles:

Lucid dreaming as a spiritual practice
The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

Lucid dreaming as a spiritual practice

Lucid dreaming as a spiritual practice

Lucid dreaming is the art of becoming more self-aware in our dreams.  Often when we realize we’re dreaming, the dream becomes clearer, and colors more vibrant. We’re aware, alert, and we know that ours is a dreaming landscape. The sheer joy of it often lifts us off our feet and we float into the sky, looking down at all of the dream’s creation.

The rules are different here:

This ecstatic state is known as the lucidity effect; it’s been documented by countless beginning lucid dreamers.

Unfortunately, holding onto that feeling can be difficult. As soon as we try to control the dream, to bend it to our will, the feeling may be dashed altogether.

But dream control is not the only way to go.

For many, lucid dreaming is a spiritual practice. This looks different for everyone, as we have wide range of personal dreaming styles. Some seek experience with the highest powers; others commune in the underworld with earth spirits. Still others have learned that flying can result in information that is later verified in consensual reality. Some brave souls find themselves in conversation with the deceased.

Lucid dreaming as a spiritual practice

Finally, this state allows for intensely real encounters with other creatures, leading us to wonder if dreams are more than “our own stuff” but a forgotten communication tool.

These dreams of landscape include communing with non-human voices. An example of ecodreaming that is reverberating strongly for us at the Dream Tribe right how includes dreams of whales, who seem to be telling us of their perilous state and asking for our help. While forgotten to us as Westerners, this practice has been known for much longer as whale dreaming by the Australian Aborigines.

Going deeper with lucidity

It takes time, perhaps a lifetime, to balance self-control with the dream’s own energy. I am by no means as master of this, even after 20 years of lucid dreaming.

Lucidity is flighty by nature. What all lucid dreaming spiritual practices have in common is that no matter how high they fly, they touch the ground of compassion.

Right action can only be felt in the particulars of the dream, and only the dreamer has the authority to know what that feels like. There’s no final, better, or ultimate goal here.

The Lucid Dance of Balance

But this much is true: lucidity emerges in maturity not as total dream control but as a conscious dance with the energy flows of the autonomous dream figures. The dance shifts between active and receptive postures, which we embody by asking questions and making space for an answer. This lucid dance is also about shifting from abstract ways of knowing to more emotional involvement in the dream, and vice versa.

Ultimately, this flow allows for a conversation between the dream ego and the self-rising currents of the moment.

If you’re interested in moving beyond your comfort zone in lucid dreaming, it’s good to know that many have gone before us on this path. Interestingly, when lucid dream psychologist Fariba Bogzaran researched how people approach the divine in lucid dreams, she discovered that those who take an active, seeking stance in the dream often find lucid outcomes that largely mirror their own expectations.

However, when the dreamers took receptive postures, not seeking but opening up to mystery, a different pattern revealed itself. They found themselves in new situations, encountering aspects of the divine that surprised, delighted, and sometimes challenged them.

Lucid dreaming as a spiritual practice

Seeking the Divine

Sometimes the way a question is framed in the dream makes all the difference. Rather than demanding, “I want to find God!”, try asking an open-ended question such as, “What is beyond my senses?”

So perhaps it’s better to say: do not seek. Rather: wait and see…

Psychotherapist Mary Ziemer is another researcher who has studied receptivity in lucid dreams. Her website outlines a new way of adapting lucid dreaming to the goals of alchemy, in which we throw images before us to enter into, and are forever changed by the transformational process.

The receptive posture in lucid dreaming has been much maligned in Western lucid dreaming culture. Many fear emotions in their lucid dreams because they may “lose control,” and others are more interested in testing willpower than learning from the dreaming imagination.

Luckily, the dreaming mind is patient, and when we become open to new possibilities, the dream responds.

In this time of ecological crisis, lucid dreaming emerges not as a narcissistic fantasy realm, as it is often portrayed in mass culture, but as a valuable method of engagement with the repressed and forgotten voices of the land, our own ancestors, and the cosmos we inhabit.

You may not find what you’re looking for, but you’ll find something better: the threshold to the unknown, where information, knowledge—and possibly even wisdom—await.

Other article: The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

We all know that giving thanks is something we “should” be doing. But recently a clinical study reported that thinking positively about our family roots boosts emotional confidence and even intelligence.

The 2010 study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, comprised four studies that pitted those who think about their roots versus those who don’t before taking a battery of problem solving and intelligence tests.

In the first study, the subjects consisted of two experimental groups and a control. A third of the subjects were instructed to think about their deep roots from the 15th century, another third to think about their great grandparents, and the control group did no such preparation.

The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

What were the subjects specifically asked to think about? They were told to imagine their ancestors, how they lived, their professions and their families, the trials they faced, and what these ancestors would tell them if they were around today.

Results indicated that both groups that looked back performed significantly better on the problem-solving test than the control.

The second study by the same research group then extended these findings with a less obvious direction: by having the experimental group construct a family tree before taking a battery of intelligence tests. In this way, the experimental group was not told exactly what to think, but still had to consider their ancestors to complete the activity.

Again, the group that meditated upon their roots performed better on the test scores. They also scored higher on a test of “traditional wearing clothes.” In other words, those who considered their pasts said they felt more control over their life, career, and ability to best adversaries than those who did not.

The group was still not satisfied with the conclusions. What is this ancestor effect? How does “ancestral salience” work? The researchers, comprised of social psychologists from Germany and Austria, conducted a third study to test if thinking about living ancestral relatives (grandparents and great grandparents) versus distant ancestors made a difference. The test scores of this group were compared to a control group that was instructed to think about a close friend who is still living.

The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

This time, both family groups outperformed the friends group, but with no significant difference between the deep ancestral groups and the living ancestral groups. So the effect is not simply due to thinking about people you like and who happen to be alive.

In a final study, the group tested this “likability” factor within the ancestral groups. Subjects were instructed to either focus on negative or positive aspects of their ancestors, compared with a control group that did no meditations before a battery of tests. Again, both ancestral groups outperformed the control.

So even if we don’t perceive to like our ancestors, thinking about them still leads to a mental state that boosts intellectual performance and decision-making.

The Ancestor Effect: How Your Roots Boosts Confidence

Tapping into the Ancestor Effect

So keep your ancestors close at hand. Every day, think about the people who are responsible for putting you on the planet. Consider their hard work throughout the ages, their resilience in tough times, and their ingenuity.

Make a family tree, and research your roots.

Even a simple five-minute meditation in the beginning of the day can instill confidence that spills over into your decision making and your ability to deal with the problems that arise today.

Making space in your home can focus this daily meditation and remind you of your roots when you go about your daily life. Find a photograph of a family member who has passed on and who you particularly admire. Frame it and keep it visible in a part of the house you see every day. Make it a daily ritual to give thanks by spending a moment looking at this photograph or some other object from the past. Even better, set up a shelf for ancestral remembrances and spend a minute a day looking upon it and thinking of those who came before.

Let the blessing go back in time, and fuel their strength, too. They are smiling upon us and giving us courage, even the nasty ones.