Showing up to work naked or suddenly speaking French in a meeting–dreams seem like senseless stories that fill our sleep. While they’re easy to ignore, they’re actually vital messages from our subconscious, says Kelly Sullivan Walden, author of I Had the Strangest Dream: The Dreamer’s Dictionary for the 21st Century.
Dreams close the gap between the subconscious and conscious mind. “The subconscious mind uses 88% of our mind’s power, while the logical, or conscious mind uses 12%,” says Sullivan Walden.
There are common dream themes that many of us share, and they have meaning if you take the time to decipher them. Here is some insight on what those dreams about work mean:
Having a dream that you forgot an important meeting or client call signifies that you’re worried about being tested, says Sullivan Walden. “This dream seems to show up with people who are overachievers, successful, or driven,” she says. “No slackers have this recurring dream.”
When you have a dream where you worry you won’t be able to figure something out, it usually means you will, says Sullivan Walden. “Subconsciously, you’re making sure that you’re prepared for the things that are testing you right now,” she says. “Our dream is telling us to show up prepared.”
If this type of dream is bothersome, Sullivan Walden suggests making a gratitude list about the things at work that are going well. “Your subconscious mind will get the message that you don’t have to worry,” she says. “It will make you feel like you’ve got this, and now you can dream about other things.”
If you dream that you are working, it signifies that your job is important to you, says Sullivan Walden. “This is common with entrepreneurs, and the upside is that it helps you become better at your job,” she says. “You work through situations and get an edge on how to do better. The challenging side is you can feel like you never get a break.”
One way to shift away from having this dream is to make a list of the things you need to do the next day before you go to sleep. “This tells the subconscious mind that the conscious mind has it handled,” she says.
Also, look at these dreams for creative inspiration. “Pay attention to the bizarre,” says Sullivan Walden. “If a hippo comes into your office wearing roller skates or something else completely out of place, it could be a clue to how you may be more successful. Think about how it may help in some way.”
Flying dreams are about success, says Sullivan Walden. “You’re soaring above the earth and problems,” she says. “It’s about mastery.”
Don’t leave that dream lying down, she adds. “Meditate later on how wonderful it felt,” she says. “If you’re nervous about something later, remember how you were able to fly. It can make you feel like you’ve got super powers.”
If you have a dream that you show up to work naked, Sullivan Walden says it symbolizes feeling revealed. “It can mean you felt you said too much or are worried about feedback you provided,” she says. “It can also mean you feel underprepared.”
Resolve these feelings by embracing it. “The more transparent you can be, the better it will be for you,” she says. “Dreams are always moving us toward integrating these feelings into our lives. Do the work so you feel more prepared and reassure yourself that everybody feels naked at one time.”
If you dream about someone at work, you’re connecting to a trait that person has, says Sullivan Walden. “The rule of thumb with anything that happens in a dream is that everybody and everything is an aspect of you,” she says. “If you dream about your boss, for example, you’re connecting with the part of you that feels empowered. You’re owning your connection with authority figures.”
If you dream about a coworker, Sullivan Walden suggests asking yourself what quality they represent. “Are they a hard worker? Creative? Fun to be around?” she asks. “What two or three adjectives would you use to describe them? Then consider that you are connecting with that part of yourself. Your subconscious is saying that you want to become more of that.”
We can have up to nine dreams each night, and while you don’t have to remember your dreams to benefit from them, you increase their value if you do, says Sullivan Walden. To remember your dream, don’t move around too much or immediately check your phone when you wake; this is when dreams often leave your memory. Before you get out of bed, Sullivan Walden suggests writing down your dream in a journal or recording it using an app, such as DreamsCloud.
“Don’t move a muscle until you have one scenario in mind,” she says. “Replay it several times before you get out of bed. Movement disconnects your dream and you’ll have a harder time if you wait until you get up.”
Another way to remember or decipher it is to share the dream with somebody else, suggests Sullivan Walden. “The meaning often becomes obvious when you hear it with your ears,” she says. “You can get a lot of information about what the dream is telling you. The most important thing is to honor it.”
If you notice recurring dreams, they may be trying to send you message. “We all have a playlist of people, places, and situations that frequent our dreams,” says Sullivan Walden. “Part of it is because human beings are habit makers.”
But there could be a deeper meaning. “Recurring dreams are like a cosmic highlighter pen that is pointing out, ‘This is important,’” says Sullivan Walden. “It’s unfinished business and you need to pay attention. It’s like the FedEx guy who leaves a notice at your door; when you finally pick it up, you can move forward or into a different direction.”