Jared would be proud of me. Whenever I grab lunch to eat in my office, I head over to Subway for a six-inch Veggie Delite with provolone. Just 280 calories. Yum.
Depending on my mood and workload, I usually gobble down my Subway lunch between 12:15 and 1:00pm.
On Monday, though, I started eating at 11:22.
Like any good economist, I asked myself why. What inspired me to eat an hour early? Did I face some new incentive or new constraint that caused me to eat sooner?
No, I didn’t. Monday was a normal day. No new incentives, no new constraints, no other changes.
Except for one other thing: I brought lunch from home. Two slices of leftover BBQ chicken pizza. Also yum.
If you are a well-trained neoclassical economist, your initial inclination will be to search for a subtle link between these facts. Perhaps cold pizza tastes better at 11:22 than an hour later. But that’s not true. Perhaps I ate early because I saved on travel time to Subway. No dice; Subway is only 90 seconds away.
Perhaps these facts are unrelated, a mere happenstance. No again. From long experience I can tell you that I always eat lunch earlier when I bring it from home than when I get it at Subway. It’s a law of nature. Indeed, I have sometimes eaten lunch as early as 10:30 on days I brought it to work with me. This is particularly likely if I put the lunch in my desk, rather than in the refrigerator down the hall.
The explanation for this behavior is, of course, psychological or, in the lingo of economics, behavioral. My lizard brain excels at knowing when food is near. And in getting me to eat it. Millions of years of natural selection didn’t favor creatures that wait an extra hour or two before they grab lunch. If the food is at hand, eat it now.
So every time I bring lunch to work, I set off a battle of wills. My rational, patient, busy self who likes to eat around 12:30, and my primordial brain that wants to eat when the eating is good.
That old brain has, if you will, the upper hand. It knows how to get what it wants. All it needs to do is remind me that food is near. I often feel as though lunch is calling to me from my desk drawer or, slightly more faintly, from the refrigerator. But that’s really the lizard brain doing its thing.
Ignoring that voice takes willpower. But that saps the mental energy I need to focus on my work. To shut my lizard brain up, I have only one choice – to get lunch over with. So on Monday I happily started in on my six slices of pizza at 11:22, washed them down with some iced green tea, and got back to work.
Perfectly rational behavior, I should note, given my urges, yet irrational as well measured against my “real” eating preferences. So it goes in the battle between our inner selves.
But wait. Didn’t I say I brought two slices of BBQ chicken pizza from home? How did I end up eating six?
Don’t worry, I didn’t steal a co-worker’s pizza from the refrigerator (if such thefts are a problem for you, please see this post).
Instead, I played along with another feature of my lizard brain. Eating six slices of pizza is much more filling than eating two. So I divided each of the two large pizza slices into three smaller ones. I then got to enjoy eating six slices, not just two.
I realize that sounds kind of insane. My rational, neoclassical side agrees. But it works. Perfectly rational given my urges, yet irrational as well. Such is life.
Note: Pizza photo from Chocolate on my Cranium.