A reality check, also known as a reality test or critical state testing (LaBerge), is a staple and vital aspect of standard lucid dream practice.
In essence, a reality check is a simple test one performs to establish if one is either dreaming or awake. Perhaps the oldest known reality check is the folk wisdom to "pinch yourself to see if you're dreaming", however this is a somewhat unreliable test.
There are a multitude reality checks, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. To date, there is no "perfect" test and each has the potential to fail: giving false results.
The following tutorial outlines the basic principles behind all reality checks, the various available tests are listed individually in the technique section.
1) Using one's dream journal compile a list of "dream signs", a dream sign is any theme that regularly occurs in one's dreams.
2) During one's waking hours regularly perform your chosen reality check whenever something unusual, unexpected, or dreamlike occurs. Be especially vigilant to perform a reality check whenever a waking event closely resembles one of your dream signs. Regularity and consistency are absolutely key, you are attempting to develop a new default lifestyle behaviour.
3) Be certain to perform each test seriously and with full critical awareness—do not simply assume that you are awake. Do not allow yourself to perform a test on "auto pilot", it is vital that you perform each reality check with a critical mind and full lucid awareness.
4) Perform a minimum of 10 reality checks each day, ideally many more. Reality testing should become a natural default behaviour, performed daily, for the duration of your life as a lucid dreamer.
5) As dreams closely mimic our waking life events and thought patterns, the idea is that developing the habit of regularly reality checking during one's waking life will eventually transfer into the dream world, at which point it will instigate a Dream Initiated Lucid Dream (DILD).
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Reality checks are as much a state of mind as they are a test. There is no point performing a test if one's mind is not fully engaged in the process and open to the strong possibility that one is dreaming.
Ideally one should perform multiple different tests during each reality check. This allows for a fail-safe should one of the tests provide false results. Two reliable tests to combine are the Nose Pinch Test and the Text Test.
Rather than enter a reality check with the assumption that one is awake, reverse this concept, assume that the very act of performing a reality check implies that one is most likely dreaming. The burden of proof should be on proving that you are awake. This way, should a test give false results, you will assume that you are dreaming rather than awake.
Reality checks are not optional, without them you will miss potentially thousands of possible lucid dreams. They are an act that reflects the core philosophy of lucid dreaming.
Reality checks are primarily used to induce Dream Initiated Lucid Dreams (DILD) but can be used to stabilize, build confidence, or confirm one's state during a Wake Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD).