What do you think about while working? He glanced up at the ceiling, contemplating his answer. And so, my day would start as though I'd been shot out of a cannon. I'd go from fast asleep to full throttle in a matter of minutes, and that would get me so amped up that I couldn't operate at any other level the entire day. Of course, I was burning out. How could I not be? I was starting my day off in stress and then I'd wonder why the rest of my day was stressful. I was using so much mental energy before I got out of bed that I was burned out by eleven in the morning. When I finally realized how much damage this was doing to me, I made a key decision. I was going to stop reaching for my phone as soon as I opened my eyes. Instead, I was going to get out of bed, thank God, then get dressed and go for a hike. I took to this right away. In comedy, jokes are extremely fragile things because they have to be exactly right to work. That's true in every profession. Execution is important, but obsessive attention to detail--making sure you get it right, every time, for every colleague or boss or customer--is critical. Comedians can't afford an otherwise surefire joke failing, just as businesses can't afford otherwise reliable processes or products failing. Detail is everything. And that's true even in a business where creativity is not just appreciated but required. If you were a guest star on my show and you came on for a week, Seinfeld says, if you missed a word--one word--in the lines that we've written for you, you're going to get a look from me . You're only as good as you are today, right here, right now, in this moment, and that's why detail matters as much as, or more than, ideas and execution.
A great idea is great only when you execute that idea incredibly well. Granted, incredible execution requires focus and discipline--but what if you feel like you lack willpower? Defending doctors has given me health-care anxieties. I see the worst, so I look for the worst. I kept asking him if we should go to the ER, and he kept telling me it was a stomach bug. However, on Sunday morning I insisted he call his primary care doctor, and she thought it could be a kidney stone. She recommended we go to the hospital. We debated whether to go to the local hospital or drive back to the apartment we shared in New York and go to the hospital there. Ultimately, we chose the latter. I drove, and Jon leaned his car seat back and chatted with me on the three-hour drive. Our exhaustion had us impatient, and when we pulled up to the hospital Jon said if we couldn't find parking, we'd just go home. We found parking. Without thinking, I mirrored him and held my breath, waiting for his response. I think of electricity as the third rail. It's energy you can't see that makes everything else possible. He motioned toward the station activity before going on. When I stay connected to the energy running everything, I'm always on the right track. I felt like he'd pulled back the curtain on the secret of how the world works. But I didn't have the instruction manual, merely a feeling that what he said was an essential piece to the puzzle of life. As he awaited my response, I felt the tingle of knowingness, that indescribable sense to pay attention.
Over the years, I'd learned to listen to this nudge and follow wherever it takes me. This was one of those times. As I went up into the trails, I would spend time just noticing everything around me. I would get a nice pace going, and I would feel the good clean air filling my lungs. And best of all, my phone didn't work while I was up there, because there was no signal, so I had nothing drawing my attention away from nature. I couldn't connect into my world of distractions, so I had no choice but to let the distractions go. I would always tell myself, For these forty-five minutes, nothing matters outside these trails. It's my place where worries can't find me, problems can't reach me, and stress can't control me. About a week after I started doing this, I realized that my days were going much more smoothly after these hikes and that I felt much stronger and was no longer feeling burned out. Sure, I still had a lot to deal with, and there were definitely still hassles and problems that demanded my attention, but I found that these things weren't stressing me out as much and that I was finding better solutions to any difficulties I encountered. The day just worked better when I gave myself a little time to enjoy life first thing in the morning. What I'd discovered was the enormous value of protecting my peace--making sure that I took care of myself before I jumped into the world. What if you're afraid that you don't have the willpower to be more productive for a day or a week, or to go the extra mile? Never fear. Help is here. Willpower isn't something you either have or don't have. Willpower is sometimes a function of necessity. More often, willpower is a function of success. It's easy to stay the course when you feel good about what you're accomplishing. Willpower is also a muscle that can be developed;
And that's great, but what if you need help doing the things you need to do right now? What if you can't wait for the virtuous cycle of motivation to kick in? He said if there was a wait, we'd just go home. There wasn't a wait--in fact, the ER was eerily quiet. So we went in, they took a history, and we were put in a triage room with a curtain. They took Jon's blood and gave him some Milk of Magnesia. I pulled out some depositions to take advantage of the wait and prep for my next case. Suddenly, the energy changed. A hand ripped the curtain open, and what seemed like hundreds of people hurried into our little space. They began taking off Jon's shirt, putting wires on his chest, and hooking him up to monitors. You've had a heart attack. Time stopped. Could I buy you a cup of tea? Surprised, he nodded and set down his tools. He tidied his work area and nodded toward a door, away from the noise and crowds. You don't have to buy me a cup, but I can see you want to learn more about the third rail. His words were kind, as he opened the door for me. The silence was comfortable and relaxed. After the tea was ready, we sat down, and he spoke. I know you have questions about what I said earlier,
I'm 64 years old, and I've concluded that life is so much more than what we can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. I nodded for him to continue. By starting every morning with a peaceful transition into the day, I was reaffirming the part of me where I was strongest and most centered. And by doing this, I went into every day with a tremendous amount of power, more than enough to contend with anything that might come up. I'm still as busy as ever--much busier, actually, than I was in 2015--but I'm not exhausted anymore, because I've found a completely renewable source of strength. I'm guessing you recognized yourself in at least some of my story. I read a report recently that said that 80 percent of smartphone users check their phones before brushing their teeth, so even if you get out of bed before you check yours, there's a good chance that you know what I'm talking about. And even if you aren't jumping on social media the minute your day starts, it's pretty likely that you're throwing yourself right into the world in some other way--rushing the kids off to school, turning on the television to watch the news or some talk show, jumping back into the work you were doing before you went to bed. Does any of this sound like you? Well, obviously you're not alone, but there's a problem with doing this to yourself. Remember a few articles back when we were talking about how seeds--both good and bad--are being planted in your life all the time? When you immediately start to interact with the world the second you get up, you're allowing all kinds of seeds to be planted before you've even gotten a chance to get your feet under you. You're in luck. Here are some tips you can start using today to help you accomplish what you want to accomplish, without needing to possess incredible willpower--or, really, any willpower at all. The process starts with designing your life so it supports your goals. We all have a finite store of mental energy for exercising self-control. Some of us have less, some have more . That's why the more choices we need to make during the day, the harder each one is on our brain--and the more we start to look for shortcuts. Then we get reckless. Then we make decisions we know we shouldn't make .