The three voices

Aug 30, 2021

 by Ryan Webb

Struggling with negative self-talk? Try this 3 Voices Exercise to heal your relationship with your inner dialogue.

Many people live with a negative inner bully that lives in their head and constantly criticizes their choices, appearance, or past behaviour. This is especially true when people are struggling with body image issues.

“Better not eat that (“bad” food) . It’s terrible for you and will cause weight gain.”

“You didn’t exercise today, so you don’t deserve to eat that.”

“You just binge ate a bag of chips, AGAIN! You’re so worthless and weak. Fat pig.”

Have you ever stopped to think about the impact that these thoughts have on your mental well-being, and overall relationship with food? Generally speaking, it’s not good. It creates a destructive shame spiral that ironically, often contributes to even more unhealthy choices, not better.

Shame, blatant self-criticism, name calling, and judgmental ‘never-good-enough’ attitudes rarely inspire people to become the best and healthiest versions of themselves.

The Inner Bully

we label this voice the “Inner Bully” or the “Food Police” or sometimes even the “Monster.” Some clients like to even give it a name – as in there goes “Negative Nancy” again. (Although to the Nancy’s out there reading this, this is not a negative judgment on your name!)

I help clients remind themselves that this voice is:

  • Mean
  • Disapproving
  • Judgmental
  • And frequently lets you know that you’re never good enough

Honestly, it’s exhausting trying to please this always critical voice, so it often leads to people giving up and feeling like it’s useless to even try in the first place. It’s also connected to very black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, especially with the notion that since you’re already being “bad”, you might as well go off the rails, with the promise to yourself to “get back on track tomorrow, or on Monday, or after the holidays, etc.”

There has got to be a better way to speak to yourself, but what do you do when the Inner Bully is so ingrained, that it’s happening automatically and without conscious though?

Bring in two BETTER voices to be in the driver’s seat! Please meet:

The Curious Detective


The Wise Guide

imagine a road trip with three individuals inside the car: the Inner Bully, the Curious Detective, and the Wise Guide. It helps to give each of the three voices a name, and helps people notice and name who is speaking in that very moment and driving the car.

This exercise is also a practice makes perfect type of deal. What you put into it is what you get out of the exercise. The more you cultivate and practice your Curious Detective and Wise Guide, the stronger and more automatic those two voices will become with time. Journaling or writing down your thoughts is also a great way to categorize which voice is speaking, and to help strengthen your neutral and positive lens for looking at a situation.

The Curious Detective

This voice is a neutral observer. It’s the voice you use to make observations without judgment. Try to embody a neutral voice that is able to take note of your thoughts and actions with respect to your food world, just like an anthropologist would observe an individual or culture with curiosity. Or just like a detective who gathers clues, this voice remains curious and open, and lets you explore and discover yourself and your world. For example, noticing when you’re feeling hungry or full, what you ate, the time of day, and what you’re thinking are actions of the Food Anthropologist. This voice simply observes and shows you how you interact with food, both behaviourally and inwardly.

“I skipped breakfast and was ravenous at 2:00pm.”

“I just ate 10 cookies.” (No judgment here, just the facts.)

“I experienced guilt after eating dessert.” (No condescending statements, just an observation of how you felt.)

This second voice is:

  • Curious
  • Observant
  • Honest

The Wise Guide

This final voice is kind, compassionate, and supportive, similar to the soothing quality of a best friend or wise guide that wants to support you in living your best life. It has the ability to reassure you that you’re ok and everything will turn out fine. It’s the complete opposite of the Inner Bully: it’s not critical or judgmental and never scolds, guilt-trips, shames, or pressures you. This voice is responsible for the positive self-talk in your head. It is unconditionally supportive while encouraging you (like a wise guide) to uphold the values that matter most to you.

“It’s ok to have some cookies once in a while. Eating a few cookies is normal and totally fine within the balance of my larger health goals. No need to spend any time worrying about this.”

“I really overate this evening. I wonder what I was feeling that could have made me need more food to comfort myself? Let’s put our energy into exploring that vs. judging myself or feeling bad for overeating.”

“When I take care of myself, I feel great.”

“I’m getting more in touch with my hunger and fullness cues every day that I work on slow and mindful eating. Yeah, and go me!!!”

“I’ve been doing a great job eating more vegetables lately! I’m doing awesome with my goal!”

This final voice is:

  • Kind
  • Loving
  • Encouraging
  • Compassionate

Having the neutral and kind voices working together as a team to oversee the daily self-talk leads to increased resiliency, happier moods, improved body image, and better long-term consistency compared to having an angry and disappointed critic calling the shots.

Give this 3 Voices Exercise a try with yourself, or someone you know, and let us know how it makes you feel when you put some deliberate practice into your own inner self-talk!