When you’re trying to lose weight, get in shape or simply eat and exercise in a way that promotes good health, you probably find that some discipline is in order. I’m sure there are some people walking around in the world who have a natural innate sense of healthy balance, but for most people some thought and effort is necessary.

Sometimes, eating right and getting enough exercise can be a bit of a struggle. We get busy. We get stressed. We eat too many restaurant meals. We eat for comfort. We eat for joy. We eat because we are bored.

Do you ever fall into these “traps”? If so, how does that make you feel about yourself? An interesting column this week in the New York Times talked about new research suggesting that the path to optimal health might not be paved with self-discipline. Instead, a little self-compassion may be the ticket.

Now, being kind and compassionate toward yourself does not mean letting yourself sit on the couch with a whole pint of premium ice cream. As one of the researchers said, “With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

I personally found this fascinating. On the one hand, when I was recovering from surgery it felt natural and right to feed myself foods with a wide range of nutrients to help support my body while it was healing. There was absolutely no sense of self-discipline or “I must do this!” On the other hand, I’ve noticed that I feel very different about eating dessert when I’m at my ideal weight, versus when the number on the scale has crept up past my comfort zone. A touch of self-criticism often comes into play, at that point.

So maybe the trick is, in our behavior towards ourselves, to be more kind-and-loving-but-firm parent (in the “I want what’s best for you” sense), and less “Drop and give me 20” drill sergeant. Interesting.

Learn more by reading the article for yourself, here.