So I recently had a discussion with Letaali on the Dreamviews Discord and thought I would share this.

Reality Checks != Reality Checks

When I say != (doesn't equal), I mean that I think not all reality checks should be treated as equal measures of reality or dream, and that the choice of reality check is not completely a matter of preference. A few different categories of reality checks seem to exist, and each of them can influence the efficiency of a certain reality check. I'll list what I came up with, and then I'll try to formulate some conclusion on what kind of reality checking is optimal.

Absolute vs. Relative

This difference is determined by the mechanism according to which a reality check works.
  • Absolute reality checks rely on the physiology and biology of the body while asleep.
  • Relative reality checks rely on beliefs, expectations, and schemata while dreaming.

The differences are that absolute reality checks are far more reliable (i.e. much less probable to generate false positives or false negatives) than relative reality checks. Relative ones can be obliterated with just one single false positive or false negative.
Therefore absolute reality checks are "better" than relative ones in this sense.
I only know of one absolute reality check, the nose pinch; all others are relative. The reason why the nose pinch works is that your nose is not affected by REM atonia (which allows you to breathe), but your hand is (which prevents your real body from pinching your real nose). On the other hand, a reality check such as trying to push your fingers through your palm relies on the fact that these constructs do not have physical properties in a dream, which doesn't prevent the reality check from possibly failing.
That is not to say that relative reality checks are not to be believed, they can be very efficient too. However, acknowledge that they can always fail, where absolute reality checks stay unharmed.

Positive vs. Negative

A different distinction is not about the efficiency of a reality check to determine if you're dreaming, but rather the efficiency of arriving from the direct, raw result of the check to your conclusion about whether or not you're dreaming. It is one that has to do with logic.
  • Positive reality checks are those whose postulate is of the form: "if something is true, then I'm dreaming"
  • Negative reality checks are those whose postulate is of the form: "if something is false, then I'm dreaming"

Positive reality checks are more straightforward. They are ever so slightly easier to correctly apply reasoning to in our dreams. After all, what you always wish for is a reality check to tell you that you're dreaming, not the other way around. With negative reality checks you don't need that additional factor of -1 to play with. Also, I have heard claims that "your mind doesn't understand negations", which could perhaps be a reason for some people to choose positive reality checks for sake of logical simplicity.
Therefore positive reality checks are "better" than negative ones in this case.
An example of a positive reality check could be the nose pinch; if you can breathe through your nose when it's plugged, you're dreaming. An example of a negative reality check could be finger counting; if the number of your fingers in one of your hands in at least one direction is unequal to 5, you're dreaming. Again, this is not to say that negative reality checks are less credible; they're perfectly fine. It's just a matter of messing up in your dreams less and preventing strange things from happening, such as yourself completely ignoring a positive result.
Also, a few reality checks can be worded in different ways making them positive or negative. For example, the tactile self-awareness reality check could be phrased positively as "if I feel ethereal, I'm dreaming" or negatively as "if I don't feel gravity, I'm dreaming".

Fast vs. Slow

Another distinction is made between reality checks defined by the time they take to execute. It's more of a continuum, but in general the differentiation goes a little like this:
  • Slow reality checks are those that take typically 5-10 seconds to carry out (that's the time interval between questioning your reality and arriving at the result).
  • Fast reality checks take no more than 1-3 seconds to carry out.

There are multiple reasons why fast reality checks are better than slow ones. First, they greatly diminish the chances of being pre-lucid in a dream and staying that way until the end. I had a few dreams where I successfully questioned if I was awake, but I didn't have time to arrive at a result given by reality checks. If I had known about fast reality checks, I wouldn't have had that problem. The second reason is that fast reality checks are much better and less exhausting to practice more frequently. The traditional quota is 10-20 per day. However, with fast reality checks you can easily reach up to 60 per day and beyond. Not only does this greatly increase your chance of actually carrying one out in your dreams, but it also makes it easier to keep them in the front of your mind in general, and it also doesn't give you an issue I've had when I wanted to do slow reality checks a little too often:

"Am I dreaming? Come on, I just did a reality check a minute ago, I know I'm not! Fine, I'll do it... *grumble*"

Examples of slow reality checks include the nose plug and finger counting. A fast reality check can be self-awareness or paying attention to detail around you. Some fast reality checks are so fast, you can skip the question part altogether. Whenever your prospective memory reminds you to perform the reality check, you can jump straight to the answer: I'm dreaming or I'm awake. This, hopefully, allows you to skip the pre-lucid part of your lucid dreams altogether and just jump right into lucidity!

Physical vs. Mental

Another distinction comes from the things you need to do in order to carry out a reality check.
  • Physical reality checks require you to use some part of your body.
  • Mental reality checks only require thought.

Again, it should be clear that mental reality checks are better for many reasons. First, they can be performed in public! Second, many of them can be performed while you're falling asleep without needing to open your eyes or completely dispel the process of falling asleep. Third, they are much less exhausting when performed frequently. And fourth, they can still be performed in dreams where you don't have a physical body, because you're an ethereal being or spectator.

So What?

In general, I think a more effective approach to reality checking would be to practice only one type of reality check that works very nicely for you, and using all other reality checks as a verification tool for when you suspect you're dreaming because your primary reality check gave you a positive result. I am currently using a form of tactile self-awareness as my main reality check and I am hitting really high numbers with it, expecting to go lucid from it very soon.

Sweet lucid dreams to you all!