Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!" (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright now." Esau said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" Jacob said, "Swear to me now." So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Bereshit / Genesis 25:29-34; ESV)
The main contrast between twin brothers Jacob and Esau was their outlook on life. Jacob was a planner. His focus was on life's bigger picture. Esau lived in the moment with little care for the implications of his actions. I just read the story of Esau selling his birthright for a portion of stew. The account ends with the comment that he despised his birthright. It is difficult to tell whether he normally regarded his birthright as worthless or if in the moment the value he put on food was deemed to be so much greater than that of his birthright. That is to say perhaps on a better day he would not so easily part with it. My guess is that he devalued his birthright in the moment, due to the situation he was in.
This is what I think due to the reason Esau gave for agreeing to Jacob's offer. He said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" He had determined that the birthright was worthless if he died in that moment. So what choice did he have? He could keep the birthright, however valuable it was to him, but it wouldn't benefit him if he died. He probably would have agreed to anything in order to preserve his life in that moment. Makes sense to me. It makes sense, except for one thing. He wasn't going to die.
I don't know if Esau really believed he was at the point of death. Sounds like he did; it sounds to me as if he panicked. That's something I understand. I have that tendency. Call it overreacting or whatever, but I am talking about the times when in the moment everything appears to be going wrong and unless drastic measures are taken immediately, disaster is guaranteed. I don't know how many times my overreactions have been proven to be unreasonable. Yet in the moment, I believe that things are exactly the way I perceive them to be and that I am not overreacting at all.
Having had significant experience in this area, I am well-equipped to say that panic is never reasonable. In fact it is almost always destructive. At the same time, how do we prevent panic if we don't think we are panicking? The solution is found in the contrast between these brothers. Unlike Jacob, Esau lived in the moment. He didn't stop to properly assess his situation based on factors beyond what he was feeling at the moment.
I know that there are people who need to learn to live in the moment more. They are so out of touch with how they feel and what is going on around them that they tend to deny reality. But reality is not properly perceived by being consumed with the moment as Esau was. We, of course, actually only live in life's moments, but effectively living in the moment requires a much bigger view of life. Being aware that God is in control, that he is trustworthy, that actions have consequences, and that our feelings can fool us, will prevent us from overreacting in the moment.