09/05/2014 05:17 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2014

What CERT Training Taught Me About Healthy Living

Over the past few days two common themes emerged for me from different people in very different contexts. Conversations, studies and blog posts this past week all had a subtle undertone of taking care of one's self. I know this is nothing new, but when you live in a world of giving and contributing, thinking of yourself comes secondary. My first lesson was about how we need to take care of ourselves so we can then help others. It's like being on a plane and putting the oxygen mask on you before you help your child. It reminded me of training I went through to become a member of the Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.).

The other lesson was not quite as subtle. I read a blog post by Ed Batista about triaging your tasks on Harvard Business Review. His example of how triage is used in the medical field is exactly what I learned during CERT training.

(in medical use) the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties.
assign degrees of urgency to (wounded or ill patients).

In CERT training we were taught about triage in the unlikely event we would need to assist a medical staff in an emergency. As they explained, there are four basic categories when the doctors do a quick evaluation of someone who is wounded:
1. Requires immediate assistance
2. Can wait
3. Doesn't need help at all
4. Past saving

As you can imagine, the not needing help and past saving are emotionally tough. But if you look at the overall picture, you can help more when you attend to those in immediate need first and follow up with those who can wait. As I read Ed's post, it struck home with me that by looking at our lives in a similar manner that the medical profession uses triage, we can move beyond the emotional connections and decisions that hold us back, keep us down and don't allow us to take care of the most critical things in our lives.

Have you ever seen this sign on a house or structure?

It's the Urban Search and Rescue marking to let searches know if a house has been searched, or is being searched, and what findings resulted from that search, including an unsafe structure. On almost every night I attended CERT training, there was one message that kept coming through loud and clear from the emergency professionals teaching the course:
You can not help others if you put yourself at risk.

This message especially sunk in for me when we talked about searching of a home. We learned that if we saw an X with a square around it, we should not enter. It's unsafe. If your job is to help search for others and you get hurt and can no longer search, how much help would you be? It's taken me years to realize this lesson applies to how we take care of ourselves in our own lives. And unlike buildings, we are not trained to put an X with a square around it on ourselves. Our indicators are more the level of stress we have in our lives and our overall health.

We can only help others if we are taking care of ourselves first. Each one of us has a tremendous gift to give the world. The son or daughter you have given life to. The co-workers you collaborate with. The ill that survive with your assistance. If you are not able, all these people miss the impact that you make on their lives. Remember, the key to giving in abundance is to live a healthy life.

The focus on helping others starts with us focusing on ourselves first and triaging what surrounds us.