In fact, we can't help ourselves: We've run out of the mental energy we need to make smart choices. That's why the fewer choices you are forced to make, the smarter the choices you can make when you do need to make a decision. You've had a heart attack. We need to get you into the cath lab. The cardiologist is on his way. You've had a heart attack. Jon turned to me and said, Am I going to die? We'd always said that Jon has nine lives. He was born extremely premature, and the doctors weren't sure he'd survive. Then he took a hockey puck to the eye as a young boy, and had a bleed behind that eye that once again had him living in the hospital, this time for months. Later, as a young journalist, he'd been in a terrible car accident, breaking his back and his ankle. Jon was a survivor. When I felt the nudge to record him with my phone, he smiled slightly and sighed. Those contraptions are a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we stay connected to the world, but we are cursed when we forget that the world lives inside of us. How does a cell phone relate to the third rail? He laughed and shrugged. That's as good a place to start as any. When we only see the world through our five senses, our connection to the third rail is lost. I shook my head, frustrated, while puzzling through his words.
You still haven't explained the third rail! In the train station, you said it was `the energy that runs everything. Now, if these were all good seeds, I guess it wouldn't be a problem, but how many of us can put ourselves into the world without coming in contact with any bad seeds at all? You go onto Facearticle and see that two of your friends are fighting. You check Twitter and see a bunch of people reacting to some self-important celebrity's crazy tweet. You turn on the news and hear about some kind of tragedy or injustice happening in the world. Maybe none of this happens on any given day, but with all the stuff going on around you all the time, the odds are pretty good that something is going to plant a bad seed in you as soon as you expose yourself. That means you're essentially playing defense from the minute you wake up. Sure, a day that begins with irritation or concern or worry can still turn around and be a championship day for you, but if that happens, it happens because you've fought your way through the bad start. How much emotional energy do you need to use in order to do that? It's a lot. And if you're being honest with yourself, you can probably think of plenty of days where you were annoyed or alarmed right at the beginning and things stayed that way all day. Say you want to drink more water and less soda. Easy: Keep three water bottles on your desk at all times. Then you won't need to go to the refrigerator and make a choice. Or say you struggle to keep from constantly checking your e-mail. Easy: Turn off all your alerts. Or shut down your e-mail and open it only once an hour. Or take your mail program off your desktop and keep it on a laptop across the room. Make it hard to check--then you're more likely not to.
Or say you want to make smarter financial choices. Easy: Keep your credit card in a drawer, and then you can't make an impulse buy. No, you're not going to die. Look at all you've been through. You're like Superman. You're not going to die. But I had no idea. As the ER team started to wheel Jon away, the cardiologist, Dr Iyer, approached his bed. He looked me right in the eye and started asking questions. Tell me what happened. What happened next? I reviewed the events of our weekend with a shaky voice. Now you're saying that we've lost our connection to it. How can we lose our connection to something we don't know about? That, my dear, is the million-pound question! Think of how trains move? He used air quotes when he said the word higher. The same is true for us? What do you call this energy that runs beneath, in, and through everything? He didn't hesitate.
At my surprised expression, he continued. Gratitude is our appreciation for the present moment. And think about it another way: How willing would you be to pick your head up from your pillow and immediately start a conversation with a thousand people? You know, just get out of bed, walk into the next room, and have a thousand people there saying stuff at you and expecting you to respond. That would be insane, right? But that's effectively what you're doing when you jump onto social media first thing. You dive into a conversation with a thousand people, you get all kinds of information, at least some of that information is going to be negative, and you find yourself being drained before you've even brushed your teeth. Here's what I know: you are always in control of two things--what you give and what you accept. Let's talk here about the acceptance part. The world is going to present you distractions every day. Things that don't serve you, grow you, or help you. The problem is we accept these things far too often. Or require two sign-offs for all purchases over a certain amount; Choices are the enemy of willpower. So are ease and convenience. Think of decisions that require willpower, and then take willpower totally out of the equation. It's also easier to make a smart choice when the decision isn't right in front of you. Pick easy decisions that will drain your store of willpower tomorrow, and make them tonight. For example, choose what you'll wear. Leo Widrich, the cofounder of Buffer, found a way to make this decision incredibly easy: He wears jeans and a white T-shirt every day.
Or decide what you'll have for breakfast. Scott Dorsey, the aforementioned cofounder of ExactTarget, eats oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast every day. He told me that he was going to take Jon to the cath lab and try to clear the blockage. He drew me a picture. Questions and objections flew through my mind for the next few hours. Finally, the doctor rounded the corner. It went well. He should be okay. He was okay, and he is okay. I write this article almost four years to the day since his heart attack. We have both changed. Jon works out even more, eats even better, and is much more conscious of controlling his stress levels. When I am grateful, the past is over, and the future has not yet arrived. He paused, took a deep breath, and added, It's like that German guy said. He said, `It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. I nodded, wanting to hug him for the gift he shared. So, gratitude is the third rail, I murmured, more to myself. He heard me, and added, When you stay in gratitude for this moment, you're connected to a higher source of intelligence than you could ever have by yourself. With gratitude as your default setting, the tracks of your life won't ever seem pointless. If I stay connected to the third rail by being grateful, my life will change?