Recently while I was on the road, I did what I always do. I got up early, had my 2 glasses of water, jumped right into my Daily Prep Movements, quickly visualized the day I had in front of me, and then headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. When I arrived I was quickly seated and sent up to the buffet to tackle my first big choice of the day - what to eat in preparation for some really critical meetings. As I maneuvered through the buffet obstacle course, I filled my plate with a great mix of fat, protein, and fiber - even being very purposeful about my portion sizes. After all, the last thing I needed was an energy crash or a case of brain fog three hours later.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I found myself in quicksand. I had fallen into the eating alone trap. Like almost every other person around me, I opened up the newspaper gulping down the news, I pulled out my phone and thumbed through my emails, I flipped to my PGA app to check on the latest golf scores, and maybe even breezed through Facebook. Then it hit me - I had fallen into the trap where, due to unconscious habits and habitual boredom, I was mindlessly inhaling my breakfast and multi-tasking. As I reflected, I was disappointed in myself and how I had let such a purposeful high performance start to my day suddenly sink into this low performance default.
So why is this very common trap so low performance? First, as soon as I began multi-tasking and overwhelming my brain with information (much of it bad news which was out of my control), my sympathetic nervous system (jump into action system) went into overdrive and I diminished my body’s ability to digest my food. This caused my cortisol level to increase, which not only can contribute to brain fog later but also wreaks havoc on my gut bacteria leading to inflammation. This can exacerbate brain fog and also sap my energy reserves. Second, by frantically shifting my attention from one thing to the next, I was (according to Dr. Russ Poldrack a neuroscientist at Stanford) activating the striatum region of my brain which is designed for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Without all of these self-imposed distractions, the information I was reading would instead go into the hippocampus where it could be organized and made easier to retrieve. Third, I was fatiguing the organ that I was going to rely on most during my high impact meetings - my brain. Even worse, the pre-frontal cortex of my brain where my wit, problem-solving, and presentation skills dwell was becoming depleted of neurotransmitters and oxygen. Fourth, because I was so distracted, I wasn’t even enjoying this wonderful meal. Okay, you got me - the hotel buffet scrambled eggs were not that good anyway, but you get the idea.
Suddenly I had an epiphany and decided to take control of my behavior. I put down the newspaper, turned off my phone, and began to mindfully enjoy my breakfast. I calmed myself with some slow and calm abdominal breathing and I purposefully tried to enjoy every part of my breakfast, every sip of my morning coffee, and even the entertainment of the chaos around me. This shift helped me not only appreciate my food and put me in a much better emotional state to prepare for my high performance day, it also helped me realize that I had eaten enough food. Where previously I would have habitually just gone back up and filled my plate again, now I consciously connected with my hunger scale and instead decided to push my plate away and to stop eating. Next, I decided to calmly focus on my email to be sure to take care of any urgent needs that may need my attention. Surprisingly, I was amazed that in this new non-hungry, calm, and focused state, I was 200% more attentive and productive when even doing this simple task.
As I paid the check and thanked my waiter, I was blown away at how just becoming more purposeful, more strategic, and more calm changed my entire breakfast. I still got my most critical email done but I also set my body and brain up for a greater chance of success later. I’m convinced that a big contributor of overeating and brain fog is simply just falling into the eating alone trap. Next week, I challenge you to increase your awareness, especially if you are on the road, and to see how you can avoid this all too common trap.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think.
Founder/Chief Performance Officer