THE BLOG
01/17/2014 02:56 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2014

Choose a Better Path, Take Care of Yourself First

As the owner of a spiritual travel company, I get to see people on vacation who are also seeking to change their lives for the better. Over time, I have noticed some big patterns in our guests that have led me to some simple conclusions. One of the most important ones: charity begins at home.

I used to not understand what that means, but lately it has become like a bell that I can hear in my head, reminding me: if you're not able to take care of yourself first, it means that you cannot possibly properly take care of others. Have you ever lost your temper with a colleague or someone in your family? Even if that was well-deserved, even if they were driving you crazy... if you had better tools, it wouldn't bother you.

I can give you dozens of examples of people that I know, myself included, who deal with stress and difficult situations better when they are centered, mindful and aware.

When you can do what you do with grace, you will never need to bitch about somebody at work, or snap at your kids.

Did you know you can choose to be less stressed? Think about a situation that bothers you at work or home. Will it happen/not happen if you aren't stressing over it? Ask yourself: what benefit am I getting from feeling stressed right now?

Maybe the situation is terribly unfair. Maybe you can't fix it because it's not a situation that you created or have control over. Do you know that by being upset about that situation, you feel like you are controlling at least your own reaction to it, which might be the only thing you can control? So on some level, even though you can't do anything about it, by reacting badly to it you feel like you're getting something out of it: the opportunity to control your surroundings.

Maybe you can't control what happens to you but you CAN control how you react to it. I was in a workshop this weekend, and a woman complained about a colleague who was a terrible person, an older woman who is extremely set in her ways and made life miserable for her coworkers. She felt that because this colleague was awful to everyone around her, that she had no coping mechanisms -- there was no way that the colleague was going to change. Yet if I came into that situation, that co-worker wouldn't bother me. No matter how rude she was to everyone. I am simply not invested in the situation, so my perspective is inherently different. And from that other place, I can look at that woman and see her behavior as a cry for help.

Whenever someone pisses me off, I always do my best to see them as a six-year-old. When I can see that person as a small child who is suffering and asking for help, I can see them through new eyes. I can feel compassion toward them, and want to give them my help.

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Whatever the situation you are facing, changing how you respond to it can give you more control than getting angry or upset. Choose deliberately: to be less stressed, to pick a better feeling, to see someone differently. All of these choices will make you feel empowered and give you the opportunity to take care of yourself first.

Images © Eunjung Choi & Yves Nager, used with permission