We are responsible for our fate.

ss11

For the first time in my life I’m conflicted about the prospects for the future. I’ve always felt that sanity could overcome hype. Or least contain the impact.

In news, election and business cycles there are two types of data: undistilled and distilled. The interconnectedness of today’s world means the ratio of undistilled to distilled information is rising.

This isn’t the first time in history this has happened. Advertising convinced us that smoking was healthy and sugar was good for you. We let short, pithy ads outwit our rational minds.

Over time a quiet but determined group of rationalists has made progress towards undoing that. But the fact that cigarettes are more accessible to most Americans than spinach demonstrates how difficult it can be for rational thought to beat manipulative marketing tactics.

We are more interconnected than ever before. Breaking news, social networks and floods of undistilled information compete for our attention. Volume increases volume. To stay in business the sources must keep you hooked. To do that they increase the noise to convince your monkey brain that you need what they are making.

This is not the media’s fault. Trump is not the media’s fault. It is too early to understand the lasting impact, positive or negative, of the UK’s vote and well too early to predict the fall election.

The problem is that the impact is spreading. What you choose to eat has little impact on your neighbor. But how the majority chooses to vote forces everyone to come along for the ride.

What has and will happen is our doing. We are not stupid. We are manipulatable because, well, science. Our brains do more things subconsciously than consciously. Have you breathed in the last minute? Did you think about it?

We’ve fed the media with positive feedback loops. Instead of challenging click bait headlines we click them. Instead of spending 30 minutes learning about a topic we comment on Facebook. Our brain doesn’t know the difference between reading a peer reviewed study and reading our crazy high school friend’s conspiracy theories on Facebook.

We are responsible for our fate. Developing an intelligent view of the world and opinions based on it is no one’s responsibility but our own. We can’t blame someone else for becoming morbidly obese and we can’t blame anyone else for political outcomes that damage our lives.

We cede control it when we click, share and read undistilled, biased marketing spin.

We must ask ourselves what kind of people we want to be. But first, check Facebook.

 

Book Notes – Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Amazon Link

Read Jan 2016. Review June 2016.

This review is late. I incorrectly assumed I wrote down my thoughts on this book some time ago. I can’t believe I didn’t.

It’s not as thoughtful a review as I would like to write. The information has had time to distill.

I listened to this as an audiobook. I’ve suggested the same to many. It’s approachable, funny and will wreck your world view (in a good way). I will be re-reading on paper this year.

To know me, to do business with me, to have a deep conversation with me, one must read this book.

This is the most influential book I’ve read in my adult life. It’s the first in a trilogy that, frankly, I haven’t enjoyed as much. It’s an entry point into a very different way of thinking.

You will find yourself thinking about Nero. It introduced me to idea of the random event. The thing that happens that makes or breaks people. In today’s culture we Idolize those for whom the random event leads to positives. These are the venture capitalists who invest in a company that sells for $1B three years later. Or the CEOs who do the same. Or the traders who make the trade of a lifetime.

We very rarely read about those who played in the fire and got burned.

But the concept that had the most impact hit me at a time when I was primed to receive it. It introduces the idea of distilled vs undistilled information. The fact that the flywheel that makes media businesses work is earning more eyes. The smartest way to earn more eyes is to create a dependency on information. The smartest way to do that is to prompt you with facts that, when considered objectively, don’t actually mean anything. Or with like notifications or whatever.

It led me on a journey that led to, among many things, this blog post.

We ascribe skill to the successful. And there is skill. But the role of the rare event is never considered.

I wrote this in an email to friends:

If you haven’t read Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness, you should. It is the book you need to have read to experience this cycle with open eyes. The book changed my life. It’s a great audiobook.

Most people have a bias to follow the crowd. And because some have won big at roulette before, and of course they are smarter than most people, they assume they will win and never lose the all-in bet.

This book completely changed my life. It is very approachable. Taleb’s The Black Swan and Antifragile build on it. I like Antifragile. It’s in my book pile. I read half of The Black Swan and put it down. It serves as a point maker for FBR and is duplicative.

This book kicked off an exploration into the topic of internal vs external orientation which has led me in a lot of unplanned directions. I will be writing about these directions..

Seed investment benchmarks

A founder we’ve gotten to know over the past few months asked me to share benchmarks that we would want to see in order to lead a larger investment round in a commerce company. My answer is by no means an exhaustive list of what we look for.

I generally like to live my life by a basic set of guidelines, not strict rules. Rules ignore context. Context changes everything. Some benchmarks are relevant for some companies and some aren’t. We invest the same way.

I realized my answer applied to more than just the one company so I wanted to share it (and later link to it).

Seasonal is seasonal. It’s just a thing. 

Benchmarks are relative for seed investments. Our primary concern for any early stage company is determining whether they can capture a repeat market. We see Kickstarter as a way to validate one component of the business but the real validation for investors and really for the company is when you develop a repeating direct retail relationship.

Can customers find you? Do they buy? Do they buy twice? Do they return? For a product made to last, what’s your growth strategy from customer to customer? What are your unit margins?

The only one of those we have a quantitative benchmark for is margin. If your margins are sub-50% you require venture capital to operate (as opposed to requiring VC to grow). That’s a huge red flag. Absent an empirical path to cost of goods savings from provable economies of scale, the margins are going to stay sub-50 and the business is capital-dependent. That’s a big problem.

Second generation investments

Over the past year we’ve had a number of portfolio companies reach a point where their businesses can’t raise more capital and they can’t find sustainability. This is the awkward middle ground of success where most startups land.

More startups end up in this place than those who die spectacular flame out deaths. The founders of the stranded startups still see the potential but options are running out. No more capital is available. You have numbers now and they suck. You’re not growing. You took an extra year to build the core product.

It’s an awkward place that generally isn’t covered in the press. It doesn’t make good headlines. I’ve been in that position. It sucks. It took me a year to recover from the experience personally, though I only realized I was recovering towards the end of that year.

I maintain a view than investing is a long-term business. Investments are primarily made in people. Businesses fail for reasons not generally related to the person leading them. Markets change. Luck and randomness go in favor of a competitor.

If you subscribe to the world view I subscribe to (read Fooled by Randomness) you know that skill plays an equal role as chance in determining success. Luck alone can make it rain. Skill alone cannot. Luck and skill combined create magic.

When I see a company in this position I choose to focus on the long-term. What opportunities can the founding team and I have in the future? There will be another company. And I want the founder to know that I am focused on that. This will not be her last company.

In the short-term I advise to do what’s right for employees and investors. Not every employee signed up to take the massive personal risk a founder takes, especially once a team grows beyond 5+ people. You need to take care of them just as they took care of you.

So when the ship is wobbling and the future is unclear, set the ship down gracefully. Your good investors care more about you what you do next than what happens with this company.

Take care of your people. Take care of yourself. Take care of your investors. In that order. Make decisions that minimize uncertainty and maximize the chances of creating opportunities with your team and investors in the future.

Those people will follow you. We will build another company together.

The magnitude of the global logistics industry

I obsess over the magnitude of the global logistics industry. In the startup world we focus so often on consumer-facing companies because they make sexy stories…they’re relatable.

As technologies and efficiencies have improved, the demand to move smaller parcels has moved further up the distribution chain.

The old supply chain needed to move mass quantities of goods from manufacturer to importer to distributor to retailer and then to the consumer.

Today’s technology allows companies to skip steps, moving less quantity per shipment and sometimes shipping directly from the manufacturer to the consumer. For some incumbents, this is a catastrophic shift.

These changes are all made possible by innovations in efficient production requiring shorter lead times and lower minimum production quantities, more efficient planning technologies, innovations in retail (like Amazon and Ice.com) and other such innovations.

These changes are gargantuan. We talk about Uber’s impact on taxi companies frequently. We don’t talk frequently about signals like the number trucking companies declaring bankruptcy (which doubled in the first quarter of 2016).

To get a sense for the size of the market take a look at the below graphic. As a comparison, global revenue from taxi operations, a topic we love to talk about, is a mere $22B. UPS’s annual revenue alone tops $58B. Maersk, one of the largest sea-cargo companies, generates revenues of $47B.

The shift is catching entire industries off-guard. The opportunity for innovators is significant.

Source

global-logistics-market-infographic.jpg

Yes, I still live in Las Vegas

I encountered a strange phenomenon starting last fall. When I ran into people I don’t see often or otherwise communicated with them, they would say “I didn’t know you still lived in Las Vegas.” These interactions confused me.

When I shut down my company SHIFT in early 2015 I did it for a combination of reasons. We had adequate capital to survive the year but in late 2014 we woke up to a reality that we had some challenges with potential market size in Las Vegas. I had chosen some time before not to expand to Denver where we had a perfect setup to grow quickly. At the time, I didn’t want the distraction. By the time I realized we needed to do it to survive, doing so would have put our employees at risk. I chose not to take that risk.

More importantly, I was burned out and on a path to death. This is not an exaggeration.

I did not anticipate that a lot of people would assume I left Las Vegas as a consequence. Perhaps this is because a lot of people move places to start companies and, if they fail, they leave and go back to where they came from. Perhaps this is just a Las Vegas or even a downtown Las Vegas phenomenon. I don’t know. In any case it surprised me.

In case we don’t run into each other around town, I feel compelled to explain why.

Beware of narrative fallacies
Our monkey brains yearn to find patterns and attribute them to narratives. If X, Y and Z happen they must be a reflection of a linked set of events. There are cases where these narratives are true. Almost always they are wrong.

I’ve been witness to a unique version of this phenomenon over the past six years. It’s taught me that most of what I read from widely distributed sources is not fully accurate. And it’s taught me beware of my own cognitive biases and limit passing judgment on events. Through first-hand experience I know that doing so often leads to narrative fallacies.

I compartmentalize
Those who know me well know that I have a tendency slash uncanny ability to compartmentalize. I hold competing if not fundamentally opposed viewpoints simultaneously. I generally isolate the influences on decisions about one thing to influences relevant only to that thing. Thus, one thing I do is rarely directly related or influenced by another. It’s not fair to expect others to understand this. I’m working on that.

I did not move to Las Vegas for SHIFT.
I moved from San Francisco to Las Vegas to lead product at Zappos. I had an opportunity in 2011 to explore new areas and fell in love with two things: building physical places and the work of venture capital. These loves led to developing the Zappos campus, launching VTF Capital (fka VegasTechFund), launching SHIFT, building (and now selling) Work In Progress and a bunch of other stuff. Some of my work was with Downtown Project, a lot of it wasn’t. I compartmentalize.

I don’t drink, I eat weirdly and rarely go out
After the wind-down and through 2015 I grew obsessively focused on my mental, physical and emotional health. In some ways, I became a gym rat and I study food science relentlessly. Unintentionally (and through tons of research) I fell into a routine that has completely changed my being.

One side effect is that I don’t drink which means I don’t go out unless it’s to specifically meet up with close friends. Separately I realized I’m happier in 1:1 or 1:few settings and most uncomfortable in groups. So you don’t see me in groups, in bars very often.

To minimize decision fatigue I essentially eat the same thing every day. After much research and tinkering, my diet is limited to foods that make me feel good and excludes foods that make me feel bad. Since restaurants often add tons of hidden ingredients to create amazing flavors, I rarely eat out and I don’t have meal meetings. These are my choices…because I’m weird.

I believe if I discovered this lifestyle while building SHIFT it’s likely I would have made different decisions about winding it down.

Even as a non-drinker I love meeting friends at bars. If you want to meet up, text me.

I don’t see home ownership the same way as most people
I once received feedback that the fact that I had not purchased a home in Las Vegas made people doubt my commitment to the city. And I’ve been repeatedly told renting is throwing money away. Both of these things are untrue.

Home ownership versus renting is first a trade between control and flexibility. It is less a financial decision than one of lifestyle.

I’m insanely fickle. Renting, which I have done my entire life, supports my tendency to want to change my environment frequently. Those who have worked with me know I constantly rearrange my home and work spaces. I am an obsessive tinkerer. Nothing is ever done.

Renting allows me the freedom to change my space or even the entire environment relatively frequently and with little friction. It also constrains the degree to which I can change my space since I can’t knock out walls in an apartment.

Priorities shift over time. As I write this I’ve just opened escrow to purchase a home in Las Vegas. I now value control over flexibility so I am buying a house in a neighborhood I love in the city I call home, Las Vegas. Ironically it was a trip to Austin that led me to consider owning versus renting.

And as an aside, the home buying process is whack. Agentdesks, please hurry up and fix this.

My work is global, I am local
I subscribe to the global vs local worldview. Derek Sivers articulates this thinking well. One is not better than the other. They are just different.

You can focus your time locally or globally.

But if you over-commit yourself locally, you under-commit yourself globally, and vice-versa.

If you’re local, then you’re probably social, doing a lot of things in-person, and being a part of your community. But this means you’ll have less time to focus on creating things for the world.

If you’re global, then you want to focus on creating things that can reach out through distribution to the whole world. But this means you’ll have less time to be part of your local community.

I have been a General Partner VTF Capital since 2011. Our team is based in Las Vegas and my partner is based in SF. We started as a 100% local firm and in 2013 started reaching globally. Today we are focused on commerce and retail without regard to location. A small percentage of our portfolio is based in Las Vegas which means the bulk are based elsewhere. I travel a lot.

Because we live here we do what we can to support the growth of the startup ecosystem. We sponsor events hosted by a local angel event organizer to help activate the local angel community, we’re investors in The Mill and we’re sponsoring several things in 2016 that don’t relate to our commerce and retail thesis.

I am a direct investor in several businesses. I am a board member at several others, all of them global. Two of them happen to be based at least partially in Las Vegas and both employ a substantial number of people in startup terms.

I have been working on a small physical product company (that’s really more of a hobby) for a year. It is based in Las Vegas (in my house) because Las Vegas makes sense for that type of business. Need/Want, a company I’m a fan of and am visiting next week, moved to St. Louis, a city to which they had no personal ties, because it made sense for their business.

I’m involved in real estate development not related to that of Downtown Project and not completely limited to Las Vegas. This is probably the most local thing I do.

Since May 2015, I’ve published what I am working on at zgware.com/now and most of the things I do are not related to one another. I do all of them from my home in Las Vegas.

Conclusion
No one narrative can explain everything we do. The closing of SHIFT is a single, isolated data point. Be skeptical of any narrative that relates one thing to another.

Las Vegas is my home. I was here before SHIFT and am here after it. I didn’t deeply consider leaving until people seemed surprised that I had not. Those people made me wonder if I was supposed to leave.

Clearly I did not.

Book Notes – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Amazon Link

Notes from Audiobook listening:

Keystone habits are things like a regular gym routine. Around that, if executed well, healthy eating, less smoking, less drinking occur.

YMCA example of discovering that the most powerful element of stickiness to a healthy exercise routine was feeling that the gym was a place you saw friends. YMCA built a small group program.

Church pastor did something similar, church exploded. It wasn’t about the Sunday sermon but what happened during the week with small groups.

Organizational habits can be accidental and negative. Example of nurses keeping a secret whiteboard with doctors names who listened, didn’t and those who exploded when someone questioned them. Led to a lot of problems.

Paul O’Neil and Alcoa. Everything was about safety. When it counted, he demonstrated that. When an exec didn’t report an accident, even a small one, he looked into it and fired the exec. This focus broke down communication barriers and led to huge changes in innovation in the organization. To maximize safety old barriers of communication had to be broken. Front line employees had to speak to senior managers to get info to them fast. Everything was about safety. The halo effect was massive. Completely changed the company.

Habit: Trigger, action, reward. Focusing on the action is critical in breaking down habit change.

Habits break decision capability. Similar to How We Decide, you need to focus on what people react to subconsciously. Such as Febreeze and toothpaste realizing smell and taste were the most important rewards. Febreeze was supposed to eliminate odor, no one wanted it. Once it had a fresh smell, it took off. Toothpaste doesn’t need minty flavor. But that reward is something people crave.

Focus on keystone habits to effect the most positive change. Focus on rewards to make habits sticky.

Why investors prefer intros (from an investor who gets a lot of email)

Elizabeth Yin is a Partner at 500 Startups where she leads the Mountain View accelerator. She also founded and sold a company called LaunchBit. We were investors.

I met Elizabeth four years ago via an intro from a personal friend. We invested not long after our meeting.

Elizabeth has written two must-read blog posts for startup founders in the last week: How to ask for an investor intro? and Who is the best person to ask for an investor intro? Go read them, I’ll wait.

I have first-hand experience in her thinking. She did exactly as her posts explain when she introduced me to Jonathan Manzi and his company Ink a few months ago. Her email included a summary of the company, why she was emailing (the company wanted an intro because of a past investment of ours) and said “let me know if you want an intro.” Side note: never introduce two people who don’t know each other via a blind intro…it really sucks…use the double opt-in intro.

At first, it appeared to be a weird connection. I couldn’t understand why she thought we were a fit for each other. But because I know her and trust her judgment, I took the meeting.

Twenty minutes into the call with Jonathan I was excited. The thirty-minute call lasted well over an hour. I completely nerded out. My partner Will had a similar experience. And a few weeks later we invested. We tell everyone we meet about them.

Prioritizing your time as a venture investor is one of the hardest aspects of the work. On one hand you want to meet everyone you can. It’s fun. People are awesome. Some of the meetings may lead to investments or something else exciting. Either way, you’ll probably learn something from them.

On the other you need to spend time working with your existing portfolio and doing your part to help them become great companies. It’s hard to do both.

We are operationally-focused investors. We invest in a specific area that matches our skills. We choose to prioritize our time towards work that can directly contribute to our portfolio companies’ success. 99% of our contribution is work, 1% is capital.

This means we’re working on intensely cerebral problems very frequently. We’re helping write job descriptions. We’re helping solve multi-channel distribution challenges. We’re analyzing acquisition funnel data. In other words, we’re doing things.

If I take a meeting with everyone who emails me, that’s time (and cognitive load) I’m not devoting to helping a portfolio company. The compounded opportunity cost of that decision is immense. And meeting with a new founder if I know it’s not going to lead to an investment is disrespectful.

Our historical investment data shows that all of our strong and growing investments came via intros from people we know. And all of our investments that came via unsolicited pitches ended badly and the bad usually came about quickly. The data shows us that trying to manage that inbound provides a net negative return. So we don’t do it anymore.

But if someone I know takes the time to make an introduction, that vote of confidence carries significant weight. It’s like dating. The intro is a signal that the other person isn’t bat shit crazy.

A bias towards intros can be misread as supportive of a good ole boys club, that it makes it harder to become a founder for the less “connected.” I get that perspective. I also think it’s wrong.

Why does an intro matter? It demonstrates that somewhere along the way you’ve forged a relationship with another human about your company. If you are an early-stage company and/or a first-time founder, it demonstrates that you have sought advice from someone more experienced than you. It says a lot about how you think.

You may not have an intro path to every investor, but if you are a first-time founder you should be spending time with mentors. If those mentors have experience in any type of company building, they know potential investors. They know at least one who would be willing to take a chance on you, even at a small level. Over time, you’ll find your way to intros to larger investors.

Your first check might not be $1M and, frankly, it probably shouldn’t be. But I can tell you, from both sides of the table, that if you build genuine relationships that aren’t based on money, with people who help make you a stronger founder, those people will go to work for you and get you great investor meetings.

If you don’t know a potential mentor, find a successful founder on LinkedIn and message them, keep it short. Ask them real questions. They were in your position once too.

And, as in the example of Ink, an investor will be much more likely to take a meeting, even if the fit isn’t immediately clear, because she trusts the person making the intro. More importantly, the investor’s mindset during the meeting will much more open.

Your founder time is the most valuable resource your company has. Spend it wisely.

We are addicted to now

This weekend I read The Economist and the printed Sunday New York Times. I’ve done this every Sunday for a few months. For the most part, it’s the only hard news I read and I only do it once a week.

I used to be hooked on real-time information. I needed to know everything now. I feared that not knowing would create some kind of vacuum. I would miss out. Looking back I don’t know what I feared missing. But I feared missing it.

At one point I had a screen on my desk dedicated to public market data complete with a CNBC live stream. My phone received every breaking update. I relied heavily on my tightly curated Twitter follows to surface what I needed to know about world events and the startup world. I’ve always used Twitter that way.

To “keep up to date with my market” I hungrily consumed updates about huge startup fundraising events and unicorn stumbles. There was much data. I needed to know what was happening. Right. Now.

Until I didn’t.

Our media culture feeds an addition to comparisons. This is especially true in the startup world. Fundraising, speed bumps, the Zenefits’ debacle. This company raised $20M. This unicorn’s valuation is under pressure. We need to know everything NOW. We feed off knowing how we’re doing compared to everyone else.

Outside of the startup world, the media culture feeds and addiction to information. We need to know what’s happening in an election caucus in a random state at 7 pm on a Saturday night. And while we’re finding out, we need to know what’s happening in every other caucus plus the current time in Shanghai. And we need a countdown showing when we’ll know the next bit of information from another random state.

We are addicted to now.

Those addictions were distracting me. I was getting mid-day headaches. I couldn’t focus. So why did I keep going back?

My media consumption differed from how I work. I apply a very strict set of restrictions on information in my work in business. When looking at business data, project data and information sources in my companies I always ask (and pressure others to ask) “what specifically will we do with the answer to this question.”

What will I do differently if I know? That’s a powerful question. It’s another way of challenging yourself to consider how the information you are seeking will inform your actions. In the absence of a clear answer then the information’s role is to entertain. And that’s ok.

  • How will the real-time primary results in Kansas inform my choices?
  • How will the (statistically random) drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average inform my choices?
  • How does knowing that ten companies raised announced fundraising deals over $15M yesterday inform my choices?

Each of those events is potentially important. But they are not important in isolation. They are important in context.

There is nothing I can do right now with the results of a primary in a random state other than post a snarky Tweet. Since I’m not an active day trader, there is nothing I can do in real-time in the midst of a public market sell off. And there are no changes I can make right now to how I do business if I know that a company raised a bunch of money.

By rule then, this information is entertainment. It is fine to consume entertainment. It is not fine to consume it thinking it informs.

There is a lot I can do if I learn those things in the context of a larger picture. My actions in this election can be informed. I can rebalance my investment portfolio. I can coach my portfolio companies on the state of venture capital.

I need time for the story to settle and for its sister stories to settle. I need analysis to make decisions. I need to understand how this isolated piece of information fits. Analysis is only possible when it’s possible to understand the broader context of information.

So I quit real-time. I essentially stopped reading Tweets which eliminated most of the real-time noise. I dropped all of the tech blog newsletters. I stopped watching CNBC.

I sought out thoughtful writers and news collectors (newsletter people) who had a deep interest in the businesses I’m actually interested in. These are often people for whom the love of the topic is greater than the pressures of developing a large audience.

I invest in companies that produce and sell things and technologies that bridge physical and digital commerce. So I’ve started reading more deep analysis work in areas like manufacturing and logistics. And I’ve kept that news contained to daily or weekly wrapups that I can consume in chunks. Nothing gets a “breaking news” alert.

I invest in venture capital, yes, but I don’t invest in the venture capital fundraising business. News from that world that is actually relevant to my work will make it to me after it’s had time to settle and develop context.

I read more books. My attention span is increasing. I’m working more deeply and less frantically. Changing how I receive information is having an impact on my brain.

My Sunday NY Times/Economist ritual started it all. I felt informed at the start of a week. It was the new habit I inserted to put pressure on the old. And it gave my license to think about the value of the rest.

The rest were purely entertainment masquerading as informative. Their value was zero. So they are, now, gone.

I’m missing some perspectives. Over time, I’ll find them. But opening a firehose of undistilled information with no sense of context isn’t the answer.

Developing Indifference

I’ve learned a lot about indifference in the past year. I always thought of indifference as the razor sharp tool one develops when he doesn’t care. Indifference is deeper than not caring. Indifference is the most powerful tool in the behavioral change arsenal.

Indifference isn’t an active feeling. You only know you’ve developed indifference when you look back on a period of time and realize you didn’t think about something at all. If you are thinking about how you don’t care, you’re not indifferent. You’re preoccupied.

Indifference can’t be developed actively. Indifference is the process of making a thing irrelevant. It’s using a new iPhone and realizing, months later, you haven’t touched your Blackberry or missed it at all.

Indifference is a feeling that will baffle you. You will marvel at questions like how did I, after being addicted to my Blackberry for so long, just stop caring?

We often mistake apathy or angst for indifference. We say we don’t care about the negative people, bad habits or the things we keep doing even though we say to want to stop.

Over the past year, I quit drinking, overhauled my food intake, got in shape and got my mental house in order. In the process I lost 30 pounds, dropped to 13% body fat, developed an unbreakable gym routine, relaunched our fund and kicked off countless (mostly bad) business ideas. I changed how (and with whom) I spend my time. It is not an exaggeration to say I am a different person.

None of these achievements was intentional. I didn’t set out with a master plan or even a small plan. I didn’t download a magic app or read a diet book.

In each case, I found a small habit that conflicted with my view of how I wanted things to be in some measure of future time and replaced it with something else. I repeated that multiple times and quickly the habit changes compounded.

At that point, I had not yet read The Power of Habit so I didn’t realize that what I was doing was a scientifically superior path to creating lasting changes. I just knew that by removing one habit without a replacement for the chemical releases it causes for my brain, there would be a void and I would fail.

Why haven’t I fallen off the wagon? Indifference.

I am indifferent to alcohol, junk food, toxic people, status comparisons and so many things that a year ago I was addicted to.

We are not programmed to want things that are bad for us. We do not specifically need Jack In The Box. We don’t need negative people. We don’t need alcohol. We need the dopamine and serotonin releases from the deliciousness of a Meaty Breakfast Burrito. We need the releases brought by social validation.

When you consciously know what you want your world to look like you can spot the habits that conflict with that world view. In those moments of lucidity, you know what to eliminate but have no idea how to do go about tackling it. It’s at this point that some of us jump on fad diet plans or “vacations” from the habit.

The problem with that approach is that science proves you can’t simply eliminate those habits en masse overnight. You can stop yourself from drinking that extra glass of wine but you can’t stop your brain from wanting the chemical releases it triggers.

To develop indifference you have to make the bad habit obsolete. Think of a habit like an iPhone. A new iPhone and an old iPhone do mostly the same things. They are 99% identical. But the 1% of things the new iPhone does is exciting. If someone bought you a new iPhone you would look at the two side by side and choose the new one.

Want to get in shape? Create an unwinnable situation for your brain. Set an early morning appointment at the gym with a trainer or a friend. After a few weeks you’ll find the early mornings after an extra glass of wine or a late night in front of the computer make you groggy.

You’ll be miserable at the gym. You’ll want to go to bed earlier. And that glass of wine doesn’t make the mornings any easier. Your brain, high on dopamine releases from the gym, isn’t starved. And before you know it, the bad habits disappear and as a bonus you developed a daily exercise routine.

Want to drop junk food and eat more vegetables? Start eating tons of vegetables. Or as I do, drink them. Fill up. Your brain will be flush with nutrients it loves and the brain chemicals will flow. But you’ll find there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and space in your stomach to eat the crap and the vegetables. You’ll have created an unwinnable conflict, giving your lucid brain the chance to make the logical decision, vegetables win.

These are trivial examples. True indifference is more personal. No matter the subject, the science is the same.

Our monkey brains don’t discriminate between available sources of dopamine and serotonin release. They will do everything possible to get the chemical releases from wherever they can get it, good or bad.

To drop bad habits we must add good ones first. There’s only so much room in the car. Once it’s full, something has to go. And the choice is easy.

And that is how we develop indifference.