When I first started my business full-time, I was absolutely plagued with doubt. I left a 13-year career as a local government bureaucrat, a career partially chosen because it afforded me stability and predictability. And, fingers crossed, someday a reliable retirement. So when I found myself launching a business as a first-time and FULL-time entrepreneur with a 4-month-old at home, I had plenty of days when I was wondering what in the actual hell I was thinking. And by “plenty,” I mean all of them.
I was overrun with fears, anxieties, and worries, oh my!
I finally got so frustrated, I decided to conduct some “field research” and see if I could get to the bottom of what was going on. I figured at the least I would build up my own self-awareness and at best I could break free from some of these doubts and fears and concerns.
I grabbed a stack of 3×5 cards and a large, empty mason jar that I labeled “THE FEAR JAR.” Then, over the course of the following week, every time I bumped into a fear-based thought, self-doubt, impostor syndrome, or worry, I made myself write it down on one of those cards and put it into the Fear Jar. At the end of the week, I closed the door to my office, cleared my desk, grabbed that jar, and laid out each card individually. I went through them one by one and asked:
- Did this come true?
- Was this helpful?
- Is this even possible?
- If this were to ever become true, what would I do?
- Do I want to continue thinking this?
There were a number of important insights I gained from this exercise.
First, I recognized just how dang often I was having fearful thoughts! Holy crapola! Wayyyyy more than I would have thought, and certainly more than I wanted to admit to. (Let’s just say there were definitely double digits involved and also that it was not on the lowest end of the double-digit spectrum, either.) I hadn’t quite realized the extent to which I was giving energy to these instead of channeling it into areas where I’d rather be using it.
Second, I noticed that as I practiced gaining awareness of my fearful thoughts, they lessened over the course of the week. In fact, there were a couple in there that were actually repeats throughout the 7 days. Huh… Nice to know that I could actually lessen the volume – not just the perceived volume – of those thoughts by simply noticing when I was having them. They became a lot less sticky and a lot less distracting.
Third, there weren’t a whole lot of helpful thoughts I wanted to keep repeating. And by “not a lot”, I mean ANY. NONE. ZERO. ZIP. ZILCH. Everything went into the discard pile as something that caused me stress to think and wasn’t something I wanted to keep. This was a really important insight for me as I built awareness of what was taking up my thought space. When I bumped into anything that fell into this category, I was much quicker to notice it and more comfortable thinking, “Hmmm… Nope. Not going to dedicate any more time to that thought.” Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done, and some days it felt like I was constantly picking up a thought and putting it back down. Then picking it back up again and having to put it back down. ON REPEAT. But eventually, I got a little better at that, a little faster at the putting it back down part.
Lastly, and most importantly, I realized I had to change the name of the Fear Jar! As I went back through literally every single thought that made it onto a piece of paper in that jar, each one was completely untrue. So I stopped calling it the Fear Jar and changed it to the BS Bucket. That seemed more apropos, and frankly, when I use it now (because I still do!), it helps me to question the thought I’m having, even as I’m experiencing it and starting to write it down.
Now, it’s usually at this point that someone says, “But Nicole! What do you do if it IS true? What if your fear did materialize?” Yep! Sometimes that happens! Heck, I’ve DEFINITELY had that happen! In that case, I like to sit with it and see what I can learn from it. What was different about that situation? What other circumstances were at play? What could I have done differently when I had that fear? What needs to happen NOW? Those experiences become valuable data points that provide opportunities for insight, personal development, and clarification of everything from boundaries to goals to refinement of your personal desires and approaches to work and life.
If you’re looking for some clarity among the internal conversations in your head and some relief from mounting fears, worries, or the exhaustion of tangoing with impostor syndrome, experiment with your own fear jar. You just may find it becomes a BS Bucket for you, too.