Could cutting yourself a little slack improve your diet, help you stick with a workout routine and let you meet your health goals, from lowering blood sugar, LDL (lousy) cholesterol or blood pressure, to living with chronic pain? Positively. Some examples: Self-kindness makes you 23 percent more likely to take your high blood pressure medications as directed, helps you improve blood sugar numbers if you have diabetes and makes it 64 percent easier to stick with a low-sodium diet.
What is self-kindness? Well, it isn't about repeating goofy affirmations like that "Saturday Night Live" character Stuart Smalley, whose mantra was "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!" It's about reminding yourself that everybody messes up, not kicking yourself when you're down, looking at the big picture and identifying areas where you're doing well.
Turning off your harsh inner critic and turning on a bit of self-kindness boosts your confidence in your ability to make healthy changes in your everyday habits, and it makes your RealAge younger in a number of additional ways, too!
Here's how harnessing the "BFF Factor" produces life-changing, age-reducing results:
» It makes weight control easier: When diet slip-ups lead to overeating, self-kindness may work better than willpower to help you make a U-turn. Women who indulged by munching doughnuts and then were asked to taste-test candies ate fewer of those sweets when they were told: "I hope you won't be too hard on yourself. Everyone eats this stuff." This led one Harvard psychotherapist to note, "Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan."
» It lets you cope with chronic pain better: Another report has shown that people with chronic pain who judged themselves less harshly when pain interfered with activities felt less depressed, less stressed and less isolated than those who adopted a tough-it-out attitude. We're not saying they felt less pain, but they were more likely to have a positive state of mind and found more ways to work around the pain (like asking for help and finding ways to make activities easier). They also found it easier to follow their doctor's directions, since ridding yourself of negative thoughts makes it easier to believe that you can take control.
» It provides you with an extra stop-smoking tool: In the first three weeks of a stop-tobacco program, smokers who learned to give themselves positive, gentle pep talks when they felt the urge to light up ("You can do it; just hold out for one more minute!") found it easier to say no to cigarettes much sooner than quitters who didn't give themselves positive reinforcement.
» It produces a stronger motivation to exercise: Turns out people who practice self-kindness gravitate to workouts that bring deep-down enjoyment -- often something like walking with a friend, biking with a club or dancing around the house to your favorite tunes! And that makes it easier to stick with your exercise routine week in and week out. Being motivated by the desire to look better or be sexier just doesn't sustain your commitment as well.
How does a little self-love accomplish such positive, powerful stuff? It seems that an I-can-do-it attitude translates to less shame, blame and anger about chronic health issues and more respect for what you have done. And that's a surefire way to start believing you deserve a long, healthy, happy life -- and making sure you get it!
Want a shortcut to self-kindness? Pick a problem that's bothering you, then write a short letter to yourself from the point of view of a friend who cares about you. Doing this for just a few minutes a day for one week can reduce anxiety and depression for two to six months.
So, can you be a little kinder to YOU? Yes, you can!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information, go to realage.com.