Quieting Your Inner Critic, with Neuropsychotherapist Britt Frank

May 22, 2024
Britt Frank discusses the origins of our inner critic and shares practical brain hacks to manage stress, enhance self-awareness, and achieve mental wellness.
Quieting Your Inner Critic, with Neuropsychotherapist Britt Frank
May 22, 2024
Britt Frank discusses the origins of our inner critic and shares practical brain hacks to manage stress, enhance self-awareness, and achieve mental wellness.



Jess Ekstrom is joined by Britt Frank, a licensed neuropsychotherapist and author of “The Science of Stuck.” Britt delves into the concept of the inner critic, highlighting that these critical voices are learned from external influences rather than inherent ones. She stresses that while our inner critic can be tough, it often comes from trying to protect us, though not always skillfully.


  • Valuable strategies and brain hacks for handling nerves and stress.
  • How to differentiate between beneficial stress (eustress) that enhances performance and harmful stress that impedes it.
  • Practical tips, like using essential oils for quick anxiety relief.
  • Learn stress management techniques and timelines.

Though initially uncomfortable due to the brain’s resistance to new patterns, positive change requires navigating transitional discomfort while staying dedicated to beneficial habits.


Britt Frank, LSCSW, SEP

Britt Frank, LSCSW, SEP, is a licensed neuropsychotherapist and author of “The Science of Stuck” (Penguin Random House), a must-read according to SHRM, Esquire, New York Magazine, and The Next Big Idea Club. Britt received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her master’s degree from the University of Kansas, where she later became an award-winning adjunct instructor. She contributes to Psychology Today, and her work has been featured in Forbes, NPR, The New York Times, Fast Company, Psych Central, SELF, and Thrive Global.


BA, Duke University
MSW, The University of Kansas
SEP (Somatic Experiencing Practitioner)
LSCSW- KS (Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker)
Level 3 IFS Trained (Internal Family Systems)
Award-winning adjunct faculty at the University of Kansas


Where does that inner critic of yours pop up from, and how can we handle it? Jess is joined by Britt Frank, a clinician, trauma specialist, and author of The Science of Stuck. Learn tips Britt has on calming nerves, changing self-talk, and staying true to yourself in creative endeavors.

Britt Frank, LSCSW, SEP is a human behavior expert, licensed neuropsychotherapist and author of The Science of Stuck.

Rate Amplify on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and leave a review for Jess Ekstrom.

Amplify with Jess is produced by Earfluence, and brought to you by Mic Drop Workshop.


**Britt Frank**: No one’s inner critic is installed at birth. There’s no baby lying in a bassinet going, “Don’t cry. Don’t…”

**Jess Ekstrom**: “You’re weak.” Yeah.

**Britt**: Yeah, “You’re a terrible baby. Don’t cry, you shouldn’t need a change.” That’s not a thing. So all inner critic voices that are mean and hostile, just assume they came from somewhere that’s not you. You don’t need to know why. You don’t need to know who. It got installed by someone else and seen.

**Jess**: Welcome to Amplify with Jess Ekstrom, a show designed to help women get out of their head and into their zone of influence.

**Britt**: Are we supposed to just get rid of it? And the answer is no. If we could, we would. And this wouldn’t be a conversation. So this idea that you have to banish your inner critic or kick your inner critic to the curb or tell it to shut up. Like, okay, I mean, if that works for you, you go. But good luck, because it’s doing a job. And the thing with the inner critic that it’s hard to swallow, but it’s true, it’s trying to protect you from physical death. It’s actually perceiving an audience, if you’re a speaker, to be a pack of lions and tigers and bears. So it’s not, “Oh, I hope that, you know, Jenny likes me.” No, no, no. It’s “That bear is going to eat you. Therefore, I’m going to release floods of stress hormones and yell at you to stay small, stay safe, don’t get eaten.” And we can work with the wiring. But we have to start with the inner critic being on your side. It’s just very unskilled. It’s like a toddler trying to help in the kitchen. It wants to help, it’s trying to help, but there’s going to be flour all over the place. And you’re going to have a stove fire.

**Jess**: That’s true. I’m living that right now. I currently have smoothie on my shoe this morning from my daughter trying to help. Okay, but this is fascinating to me because this just happened a couple of weeks ago. I had a really big event. And I feel like since becoming a mom, this is just for me and my own personal nervous system journey, I feel like I am less nervous before I go on stage. I still have nerves, but I don’t have as many nerves because my priorities have shifted. It’s not that I don’t care, but it’s also not the most important thing in my life, which a year and a half ago it was. And I remember I was backstage and I was like, “Wait, should I be more nervous right now? Do I do a better job when nerves are on my side?” Is there anything that you can speak to on that? Like do nerves help performance or hinder performance?

**Britt**: So if we’re just talking science and brain, you could make a case for nerves being fight-flight energy, which are going to give you that get-up-and-go juice. So on one hand, sure. Nerves are a source of energy that will pump you up. On the other hand, there are two different kinds of stress and two different kinds of nerves. The good nerves are the “I’ve prepped, I know my content, I know who I am, I know what I’m about to share is valuable.” That’s the “I’m nervous and it will help me.” But the bad nerves or the bad stress, and it actually has a name, eustress, E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S. Bad stress produces bad nerves. And that’s the type of fight-flight energy that shuts you down and makes you forget everything you know, including your own name. I think we’ve all, myself included, had the complete blank. I mean, most people can fake their way through it. And then like the lights turn back on. But the bad stress produces bad nerves, produces shutdown. Good stress produces good nerves, produces peak performance. But there are two different kinds.

**Jess**: That’s so interesting because I’ve definitely experienced both and I can feel them in my body, but it’s hard to classify what is good nerves and what is bad nerves. So when we feel like we’re maybe in a spot of what did you call it? Eustress? The bad nerves?

**Britt**: That’s the good stuff. Eustress.

**Jess**: Eustress is the good stuff, this is why I failed science. Sorry. Yeah. When we’re in the bad stress, where we feel like, “Okay, I’m going to forget everything. Everyone’s going to hate me.” And you feel yourself shutting down. Do you have techniques or anything that we can tell ourselves or even just, I don’t know, like what do we do in that state?

**Britt**: Yeah, I have hacks for days. And I write, I speak, and I still get all of the bad nerves and I get all of the full-body “I’m about to get eaten by a tiger” too. And so brain hacks are very useful. And I have plenty of them. The first thing is where on your timeline are you going to land? Because how I feel before I walk on stage is going to have a different intervention than how I feel a month before I get on stage. So if they’ve just introduced you and you have that “I’m going to puke, I’m going to die, I don’t know how my foot is going to take the step to get on the stage,” that’s not a good time to start problem-solving and identifying how true this belief is. That’s just the, “All right, we need a quick breathing hack to settle your nervous system so you can go.” If it’s a month before, we have more choices. We have to start with where on my timeline relative to the thing I’m scared of am I? Because the longer the timeline, the more things we can do. The shorter the timeline, that’s when my favorite hack for when you have to do the thing right now, so we need something to just get up and go, is to take essential oil. I use peppermint, but you can use whatever. Put it in your nostrils because when you’re smelling, your brain thinks you’re not going to get eaten. Think about it. If you’re being chased by a lion, do you think you’re going to smell the flowers on the side of the field while you’re running away?

**Jess**: Absolutely not.

**Britt**: You’re not. Your sense of smell is not essential under threat. So you can trick your brain by having something really, it’s like smelling salts when someone passes out. It’s the same idea. So you put oil in between your nostrils. So as you’re hyperventilating, that triggers your olfactory sense. So you’re smelling, which tells your brain, “Oh, I can smell. Therefore, she’s not going to die. Therefore, pump the brakes.” That one’s a great one.

**Jess**: I’m just waiting for an event planner to come into my green room and I’m just snorting peppermint, you know, on the table. But that is fascinating. Okay, so the shorter the timeline to what you have to do, the fewer options you have, which is where the peppermint comes into play, the brain hack. But the longer the timeline, the more choices you have. So if you have something on your calendar three or four months in advance, or maybe even a week in advance, what are some of those choices when we’re getting in our head?

**Britt**: So the first one, and I’m a psychotherapist saying this, and I’ll stand by it. Don’t worry about why it’s there. At least not right now. Because a lot of people think if I just have insight into where this voice came from, this mean voice that tells me I’m worthless and that I’m no good, if I understood its origin, then somehow it won’t be a thing anymore. But insight doesn’t equal transformation. I can tell you very clearly where the voice came from. No one’s inner critic is installed at birth. There’s no baby lying in a bassinet going, “Don’t cry. Don’t…”

**Jess**: “You’re weak.” Yeah.

**Britt**: Yeah, “You’re a terrible baby. Don’t cry, you shouldn’t need a change.” That’s not a thing. So all inner critic voices that are mean and hostile, just assume they came from somewhere that’s not you. You don’t need to know why. You don’t need to know who. And you don’t need to go digging around in your childhood for what’s this? Let’s start with it got installed by someone else and seen. Okay, great.

**Jess**: You’re about to put my therapist out of business right now, Britt. I feel like I needed to know where everything came from.

**Britt**: Well, how did it help? Did it?

**Jess**: You know, I think that there were some beliefs that helped knowing where the start was. I posted about this the other day about like… I have this thing in my head that says, “Oh, you’re bad at math. You can’t deal with numbers. You can’t do anything.” And when I realized that just came from this day in fourth grade, where I got embarrassed and came up to the board and couldn’t do fractions. But I think the thing that helped me was finding the evidence as to, like you said, how is it true that I am good at math? And so being able to be like, “No, that’s just a false narrative that doesn’t really serve me anymore.” But I do think when there’s something that is on my calendar that I have to do, and I’m trying to dissect where all these thoughts came from about myself, that energy could be so much better spent elsewhere.

**Britt**: Yeah. And again, I am a therapist and I do the why and I get my whiteboard out and we sort of murder board how X connected to Y and how this came to be. But you’re so right. When you’re in the zone of “I need to execute,” that’s not a good time to try to figure out origin. But I agree with you. Having insight on your origin gives you compassion, but even having that compassion doesn’t necessarily produce change. Finding evidence to the contrary is a great first step. Not “Is this true?” How true is it? So instead of this being a yes or a no, it’s on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being “It’s so true you’re going to die” and 1 being “It’s completely false.” Most of the time, a great little hack is to tell yourself, “Yeah, that’s probably a little bit true.” Like if my inner critic tells me, “No one’s going to like you,” well, that’s probably a little bit true. Like in a crowd of thousands, there will be people who don’t like me. That is a little bit true. But it’s a little bit true. We can digest that. “It’s true” is fully indigestible.

**Jess**: Like the all or nothing thinking. Yeah.

**Britt**: No, it’s not true at all. It’s gaslighting because, no, not everybody will like you. And some people will think that what you have is not in any way valuable. So telling yourself, “Well, yeah, that’s a little bit true” can deactivate the inner critic’s potency. Like, “Yeah, you suck.” “Yeah, that’s a little true. I do.” “You’re a fraud.” “Yeah, that’s also a little…” I mean, in every accusation, there’s a kernel of truth. So use it to sort of microdose unpleasantry.

**Jess**: Microdose unpleasantry. I think we just found the title for this podcast. But I love this because I had a situation a couple of years ago where I was working with my life coach, Erin Foley, who’s awesome. And she’s a business coach as well. And I had this situation where I was unloading on her about this person that I felt wronged me and she didn’t speak well of me. And I was like, “You know, oh, this person, she’s so wrong. And I can’t believe she said that.” And the first thing Erin said to me was, “What about the things that she said were true?” And I was like, “You’re fired.” No, I’m just joking. I was like, “Oh man, I was so concerned with figuring out how this person who I felt was mean and said bad things was just all wrong that I didn’t look for any place as to why it was true.” And even if it was just 10% or 5% true, and I felt like it has changed the way that I perceive negative interaction or even negative feedback from people and put some space between me and the person where my ego is not the only carrier of the information back and forth. And so to tell our inner critic and our mind that, “Yeah, probably 5% of the audience is not going to be like, ‘Britt, Britt, Britt,'” at the end of this talk is a great freedom because it gives you permission to not have to win 100% of the audience 100% of the time. And I think that’s where a lot of the pressure comes from in speaking is like, “I have to get 100% standing ovations. Everyone’s life has to be changed.” And I just did an event where there were like 3,000 people in the audience. And I did a survey afterward. And one response was, “My life will never be the same after hearing Jess speak, my future kid.” Just the most over-the-top, amazing feedback. And there was one testimonial that was like, “It was too fluffy for me.” And of course, you’re just like, “What? How is that too fluffy?” And so your mind is like, “Well, I lost. I didn’t win 100%.” But what you’re saying is, accept that reality beforehand, which I think is brilliant.

**Britt**: It’s so powerful. And then, and this is a practice and it takes time, but we want to, I call it defusing. Because when you’re fused with the critical voice, whether it’s your inner voice or someone else’s bad feedback, if you’re fused with that, that’s the only thing your brain’s going to see. It’s the only truth. But we also want to defuse from praise as much as we want to defuse from criticism. Because if you are too invested, and I like praise too. Like, “Oh, I don’t care what people think.” That’s BS. I do, and I have to work on this.

**Jess**: It’s human nature. Yeah.

**Britt**: Exactly. But when you are invested in an external anything, whether it’s the highest praise or the lowest criticism, you are going to really lose your sense of center. And then we’re going to be reaching outward. So in front of an audience, enjoy the praise, bleed when they bite you. That’s all fine. But then we want to return to what’s true about me for me. And so getting up on stage, the goal for me is what I aim for is not blow them away. Get the standing out, even though that’s cool and that’s nice. It’s, “Am I being honest? Am I being true? Am I saying what I came here to say?” Because how it lands is none of my business.

**Jess**: Ooh, Britt, you are killing me right now, but in a good way, because one of the things I was going to ask you was, “Why do I now have more nerves or maybe more analysis paralysis, even though now I have more experience?” I feel like I might have been, I was a much more creative, looser entrepreneur when I was at the bottom, like 10 years ago, no one was watching versus today. And I’m not saying I’m anything big, but I feel so much more pause and hesitation in between pursuing my ideas or even trying new things on stage. And I think a part of that is what you just said, or I think a big part of it is because I’m addicted, is probably a strong word, but it rings true. Addicted to the praise and worried about like anything else. And so in what ways does like having more experience, I guess, help and hinder this process?

**Britt**: It’s such an interesting phenomenon because you’re right. Logically, the more experienced, the more comfortable.

**Jess**: Yeah. It should be easier. Yeah.

**Britt**: When I was first starting my social media journey, I had no followers and I didn’t even know how to make a template. I was just, I wanted to write a book. No one would let me because I didn’t have a platform. And they’re like, “You need a platform.” So I’m like, “Okay, I guess I’m just going to start vomiting ideas onto Instagram and see what happens.” When I had no followers, I tried out all kinds of things and I tested different ways of thinking and different ideas. No problem. As soon as I started building followers, I froze because now there are eyes on you. And then as soon as I externalized my, “What do they want?” And it’s so, so interesting. The more I focus on “What do they want,” the worse I perform. Whether it’s a post, a piece of writing, a speech, doesn’t matter. If I am focused on “What do they want,” I do not do well. Obviously, if a meeting planner wants X topic, I’m going to stick to the topic and build content around what I’ve been hired to do. But if it’s, “What do they want?” versus “What do I know is true?” and “What do I have to share?” It doesn’t work. And that’s a bummer. But the more eyes you have on you, the easier it is to look out and go, “What do they want?” And that’s, and for me, that’s when everything starts to go downhill. It doesn’t work.

**Jess**: It’s so tough striking the balance between “What do I want to say?” and “What’s sellable today?” And especially as a speaker, in Mic Drop Workshop, we work with women all the time and they come to us with a passion or an idea or a thought that they want to share. And I feel like that’s their job. And it’s our job to show them what is the angle, the audience, and the value that they can bring as a professional speaker. Because if you’re thinking both ways at once of like, “I’m really passionate about this, how does this sell?” then it totally diminishes the creative process. So I think that’s one of the toughest parts of being a thought leader, whether you’re an author, speaker, whatever you’re creating, is like what you said, “What do you know to be true?” and “What do you want to say?” versus trying to appease and grow and make a business out of this. Because now you have, yes, you have more experience in this industry or in this area of knowledge, but you also have so much more information about how the business of this works. So how do you… You’ve built a great following. You have the book, “The Science of Stuck.” You have a workbook. And I love how you said it earlier when we were talking, you’re like, “For those of you who don’t want to read and you just want to get into the nitty gritty, the Getting Unstuck workbook is for you,” which admittedly in this season of life, I’m not in a reading season right now. And so I’m like, “I will be doing the workbook.” How do you personally, with the success that you’ve amounted to, strike that balance of “What do I know to be true?” and “How do I make a business out of this?”

**Britt**: And Taylor Swift talked about this. And I really-

**Jess**: Wise, wise philosopher. Yeah, love Taylor.

**Britt**: The sage of our age. She said, you know, it’s great when the creative muse is just like when you’re in flow and it feels almost supernatural, how you’re inspired and everything is great. And then when that doesn’t happen, which is often, you have to default to craft. And so how to strike the balance for me is making sure that it’s not just, “What do I want to say?” “What do I know to be true?” It’s also the craft of speaking. It’s also the craft of entrepreneurship. It’s also the, “How do I structure something that I want to talk about in a way that’s relevant?” Not “What do they want to hear?” but the “What’s in it for me?” is one of the oldest business pieces of advice in sales for all time. And it’s relevant too. It’s not just me, me, me, me, me. It’s, “I don’t want to focus on what you want, but I do want to share why it might be relevant for your life.” And that is a very fine line. And there’s a lot of craft to it. So I’m big on mentorship. I have coaches. I have teachers. I have people that go, “Yeah, no one really cares about that because that’s actually not relevant for anyone but you because you’re weird.” So how can we make this relevant? How can we make this universal? Even memoirs. You take the craft of memoir, which is technically someone’s story, but a good memoir has universal themes. I could read someone’s memoir and see me in their story. And that’s, they didn’t write it for me, but I can see me in that story. And I think returning to that is a good way to get that balance of what I want to say and being creative and being sellable and scalable and being relevant, going back to, “Okay, how much craft can I put in here? How much can I think it through that lens while I’m creating what I want to say?” It’s hard. And let me just say, it is tough.

**Jess**: Yes. And I love how you said, like finding people who will tell you no one cares. I find that the older I get, the less like, I don’t need more cheerleaders. I want someone to tell me, “No one cares about that. Don’t pursue it.” Because I’m like, I need people who speak that real honest truth. But I do think that there is… We live in a world where we could hit publish, record, and all of a sudden you’re viral and all of a sudden you have a movie deal and all these things. And so you feel this pressure of everything has to be instant. And if it’s not instant, then it’s a failure. But there is a quote from your book, “The Science of Stuck,” that has rattled me to my core. And it is, “The belief that making a good decision should instantly make us feel good is a myth that keeps us stuck.” I want to close with this discussion because I feel like if anyone takes anything from this podcast, like this is such a headline. Talk to me about this belief that every decision has to be good is what keeps us stuck.

**Britt**: Yeah. And it is the, “I made a good change. Why do I feel worse than ever?” is very universal. And I’m a recovering drug addict. And I will tell you that the day I quit smoking methamphetamine, which yay, crystal meth is bad, will kill you, very, very bad. But I felt worse the first day I quit doing drugs than I ever did on them. And so it’s important to know how brains brain. Our brains are not wired for health and happiness and love and peak performance and optimized living. Our brains are wired for pattern seeking and prediction, which means even the best change, the healthiest change, the most amazing, awesome change is going to feel terrible because your brain doesn’t like change at all. Any change, even good change, to your brain is going to initially register as “Danger, danger, withdraw, withdraw.” So like withdrawal is not just for hard drugs. If you’ve never worked out a day in your life, tell me how good you feel after your first mile run. If you don’t eat vegetables, it doesn’t feel good to eat raw broccoli after a diet of cigarettes and fast food. And I know that because I had to do that. I didn’t have to, I chose to. So when I started eating healthy, working out, not using drugs for a few months, I felt like, “What? This is… What are people talking about? I’ve been duped. I’m better off over there.” So remembering that the stage between, “Yay, I made a good decision,” and “Woohoo! I feel great about my life choices” is a whole lot of unpleasantness. And if we can know that, then it’s not such a shock when it happens. And then it’s grit your teeth, make yourself as comfortable as you can, and hang in there because it’s going to suck before it doesn’t.

**Jess**: Yes, I see this all the time with the women in our community, with their first talk, with writing their book that they’ve set out to write, with starting their business. It’s like, “Wait, I’ve done the thing that I set out to do that I have worked so hard on. Why does it not feel good immediately?” So, personally, selfishly asking, when does it? How do you stick with the habit and not let the “Ooh, this is uncomfy” get the best of you?

**Britt**: Fighting it is going to prolong it. So the more “I should be happy. I just published my first book. I should be…” Well, you’re not. So if you can commit to what’s true instead of what you think should be true, you’re going to move a lot. I wish I could give you like “In nine days.”

**Jess**: Right. I know. That’s what I’m hoping for, Britt. Come on, just make it up.

**Britt**: Yeah. Generally speaking, if we’re using the addiction withdrawal brain literature, it doesn’t take three weeks to make a habit. That’s not a thing. But generally speaking, if you could commit to what’s true within two or three weeks, you’re going to feel a little bit less like fried, frazzled, like completely in peril, but it requires surrendering to the, “Well, I know it should be fun, but it’s not.” So then what are my choices right now? Not like, “I want to enjoy and celebrate.” Well, I feel like crap, so I’m not going to do that. What can I do? What are three, I call them micro yeses. What are three smaller than small steps, smaller than baby steps, like easy gets, what are three micro yeses available to me now that I can do because building those wins is going to produce the dopamine that will then make you feel good after you get rolling.

**Jess**: I love these hacks. I’m like, tell me, I am not in the season of like what you said, let me dissect my whole life and find what’s holding me back. It’s like, I just want to sniff some peppermint and do my micro… What did you just call them? My micro-yeses. This is great. So if you are picking up what she’s putting down, definitely get “The Science of Stuck.” And then also, or get “The Getting Unstuck Workbook,” which I will definitely be getting and working through. Britt, you are amazing. Where else can people find you? How can they work with you? Tell us everything.

**Britt**: Oh, this was so much fun. You can find me on Instagram, where I have terrible boundaries, and I talk to everybody, and I spend hours on there all day, and all of it at Britt Frank, B-R-I-T-T, has two Ts, and my website, scienceofstuck.com.

**Jess**: Awesome. Thank you, Britt. Appreciate you.

**Britt**: Thanks so much.

**Jess**: Thanks for listening to Amplify. If you are a fan of the show, show us some podcast love by giving us a rating and review. And give us a follow @micdropworkshop and @jessekstrom. This episode was edited and produced by Earfluence, and I’m Jess Ekstrom, your host. Remember that you deserve the biggest stage. So let’s find out how to get you there. I’ll see you again soon.


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