I often marvel at how quickly my dog eats her food. It’s as though she were starving; she wolfs it down as fast as possible. Whenever there is not a significant price difference, I buy the smaller-sized dog food so that there is less chance that she will choke on her food. I realize that she’s very hungry, and lived part of her life as a stray before The Wife and I adopted her from the pound back in Tennessee.
Unfortunately for me, sometimes people resemble their dogs. I caught myself engaged in that kind of behavior today. I had to skip an employee’s farewell lunch because I had committed to meet the kids on the mock trial team this afternoon and, frankly, I’d lost track of the fact that today was the day scheduled for that lunch. I like the departing employee just fine, but I was happy to skip the lunch anyway — gathering twenty people around a table in a restaurant which already has not-so-fast service sounded like a big waste of time. And I wanted to get some work done before I met up with the kids.
So I popped out of the office and grabbed some drive-through (which I’m not thrilled with anyway, as I know it’s high-calorie and high-fat, and I’m kind of trying to watch that sort of thing, at least on more days than I don’t). Driving back to the office, I got to thinking more about the motion I was working on and what was going to go into it and how I would solve the problems that the case presented. I had actually completely forgotten about the farewell lunch, I was so mentally focused on the motion.
Then, as I’m trying to turn left while taking a swig of my drink, my cell phone rings. I can’t get it right away, so I execute the turn and then answer the phone. I can see from the caller ID that it’s one of the partners, probably calling me to meet for lunch. I answer the phone but there is no response on the other end — he’s in the restaurant and it’s loud, so he can’t even hear me. (He lost some of his hearing in Vietnam, where he served in an artillery unit.) So that isn’t doing any good. I park the car in the parking lot and grab my stuff.
Now my phone rings with two simultaneous calls because both partners want to know why I’m not at the lunch, and both my hands are full and I need to close and lock the door to my car. And I’d noticed I was almost out of gas, so I realized that I needed to leave work even earlier than I had initially thought, so I could fill up. And I had this great argument floating around in my head that I needed to write down (which I afterwards forgot in the crush of mental input). And I realized that I was skipping the lunch after all, and felt a tiny bit guilty about it. Too much to do all at once. Too much to think about. Information overload; short-term task demand overload; and my puny human brain begins to pressure-cook itself.
By the time I get back to my desk, I’m completely stressed out. So my response is to start wolfing down my food. Think about The Simpsons at dinnertime, too busy shoveling food into their faces to breathe, much less communicate with one another. Big bites and fast chews are also a choking and/or barfing hazard — and I’m all alone in the office with no one to help me if I were to choke.
Only halfway through my already unhealthy meal do I realize what I’m doing and force myself to stop and pay attention. I’d already explained that I was skipping the lunch; I’d already gotten safely back to my office. It dawned on me all of that sudden that there was no need to gulp down an entire cheeseburger in a single mouthful. All of my other problems from the previous ten minutes had gone away. In fact, I realized that after eating half the burger, that was really probably enough for now anyway, and I set it aside to get back to work on my motion, which will at least mitigate the damage I did to my daily caloric intake versus exercise balance sheet.
The lesson here is, slow down. Eat your food; chew it like a real person and not a starving animal. People are not dogs. If you’re an American, chances are good that you’re not really that hungry to begin with. I kind of forgot that lesson this afternoon while experiencing short-term stress. Hopefully, I keep it in mind in the future myself.