The Warrior Way: 8 Tips to Achieving a Happier, More Productive You

Adapted from a Talk given to the Women@Google by Laurel Touby.
™ Laurel Touby, all rights reserved.

Every Warrior Needs A Spirit Animal

My dad long ago wrote some letters of life advice to me that I cherished. In one of them, he was the ideal fatherly father I had no hope of ever knowing. Wise, patient, brilliant, encouraging. The lessons ranged from the mundane evils of sugar (this was in the 1970s when sugar signified mom and apple pie) to sex ed (“boys your age are after one thing, a vessel in which to deposit their sperm”). Dad was witty, you have to hand him that!

One key point stuck with me: You are a Warrior in the greatest battle of all time — your own life. At every age and at every turn, you will be tested and challenged in incalculable ways.

I never forgot that. Dad suggested that I be a Warrior in order to face off these challenges. A Warrior is strong of mind, of body and of intent. I took this to mean I must use every day as if it were my very last. I aspired to be the best “me” that I could be in order to achieve my purpose on this planet. This is how I try to live when I am my best self.

The conditions aren’t always right to be your best self though. Life, love, work, family all get in the way and I have to forgive myself, too.

This is to say that no one can be a Warrior all the time. We all get tired, we feel overwhelmed. Life gives us too much to take. But, if you have a strong center and have found your path once, you can find your way back to it. And, that is worth reaching for.

I have learned some keys to keep me on my path (and I am still learning!). I hope they help you find and stay on your own:

1. Meet Your Basic Warrior Needs
I know I am supposed to be here speaking about work. But, we must never forget that we are physical beings in a physical body that carries our brain in it. We all know that our muscles deteriorate as we age. We have heard that we must work extra hard to maintain muscle mass, but what about maintaining brain mass?

You want to stay as fine tuned in your head as anywhere else. Luckily, some people in the Medical Establishment are starting to take a more holistic approach. Well-regarded doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman are taking common-sense approaches to helping the body prevent damage. Dr. Hyman recommends food as medicine. Radical!

And while Dr. Daniel Amen’s insistence on using SPECT scans has alienated some, you cannot argue with his 12 Prescriptions for Creating A Brain Healthy Life.

I was riveted by his talk this year at the SuperHeroYou Conference in LA. Here is a similar talk he gave three years back at the same Conference.

I have a handy acronym to keep me on track: SMEN. It’s hard to put an order to the concepts embodied by this acronym, as they all are equally important. The S is for Sleep, M is for Mental State, E is for Exercise, N is for Nutrition. Except for Sleep, the rest could be in any order.

You cannot accomplish anything else on the list if you are not well rested. Rest is needed for physical and mental recovery. For more details, read Arianna Huffington’s book: The Sleep Revolution. Get a FitBit tracker to track your sleep, too. I wake up to the FitBit app every morning and observe how much time I spent Asleep, Restless or Awake. The app has helped me identify habits I need to fix and enabled me to compare myself to the norm. Thanks to FitBit, I discovered that I have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that affects critical hormones, which in turn affect your mood, propensity to gain weight, mental alertness and other things. It must be treated, and can be addressed with a varying spectrum of regimens, supplements and/or medical treatments.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night panicked/anxious. That happens less often and when it does, HeartMath (see below), or Dr. Siddarth Ashvin Shah’s Sleep Track C drones me back to sleep.

Mental State.
Without a sound mental state, nothing else follows. Discipline, impulse control, self-awareness, body awareness. I consider these all pieces of your Mental State. The optimal mental state for a Warrior is calm, aware, disciplined and focused. How do you get there? It takes time and practice. The tools are out there for you. Some of those tools are Nutrition and Exercise, which I outline below. Other tools are: BioFeedback (see HeartMath below), Meditation (check out Dina Kaplan’s The Path Meditation Community — a fun way to meet other people and socialize post-meditating) and Positive Affirmations.

I have tried various purported meditation devices, but I LOVE the HeartMath biofeedback approach. HeartMath’s Inner Balance software could be better designed, but overall, it’s an excellent experience. You clip the HeartMath sensor to your ear and it measures your Heart Rate Variability, which affects your brain state. Using the device and the power of rhythmic breathing, you effectively “train” your brain to work more closely with your heart. This brings about a positive and powerful state of mind. Read more here: RESEARCH. It takes just minutes a day and you really do see improvements quickly.

Here is what their site says will improve:

Improvements in mental & emotional well-being in over 5,500 people in just 6–9 weeks using HeartMath training and technology:

24% improvement in the ability to focus
25% improvement in listening ability
30% improvement in sleep
46% drop in anxiety
50% drop in fatigue
60% drop in depression

I have recently started using Positive Affirmations to embed new habits into my routine and improve my mental state. I cannot say whether it’s the Summer weather (I am happier when it’s sunny!) or whether it’s all of the things I am trying, but I definitely feel calmer, happier and more focused.

Sample mantras/affirmations:

I am 120 [my ideal weight] and maintaining.

I am strong and flexible in body and mind.

I am solidly on my own path to greatness.

I am able to handle the stress of [….pick a stressor] with ease.

At a loss for daily inspiration? Look up Shine Text. It’s a Chat Bot developed by Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey. Shine sends you daily text messages with motivational quotes, positive affirmations and actions you can take every morning. Here’s a great article about them in CNN Money. The messages are so brilliant and upbeat; and I appreciate that they are (mostly) based on scientific research. The topics they cover: Confidence, daily happiness, mental health and productivity.

Every morning, I use Heart Math (this is when I recite my Affirmations) for 10 minutes before even brushing my teeth or looking at email. Next, I head for coffee, read the paper/news and, from 9 to 10 am, do something physical: a 30 minute walk or run, a yoga, spin or 30/60/90 class at Equinox. That’s all it takes. Incidentally, I sprang for an adjustable stand/sit iMovr Desk and LifeSpan Treadmill, which I try to walk on several hours a day. I average 40–50 miles of walking a week. I walk half that amount if I am traveling (unless it’s to a walkable city like SF).

If you are not already in the habit of doing something physical every day, it will help to start buddying up with an exercise pal. I would LOVE to do this with some of you. I live near the Equinox Gym on East 19th Street. Click here to add your name to a Google Spreadsheet. It helps to add classes to your calendar each day of the week. Schedule that time for yourself, as if it were an important appointment you cannot miss. Alternate heavy workouts with recovery workouts. I am older than many of you, and coming back from multiple injuries, so my routine is probably too easy for you to copy.

Sample weekly routine for a 50-something in pretty good shape (adjust yours accordingly):
Sunday — 30/60/90 Class
Monday — Recovery brisk walk for 45–60 minutes, plus stretches for hips, legs, arms. Maybe weight routine, if feeling up to it.
Tuesday — Yoga
Wednesday — Cardio Sculpt
Thursday — Deep Extreme (barefoot conditioning)
Friday — Recovery brisk walk for 45 minutes — stretching, weight routine
Saturday — bike ride during the summer in the morning, walking

Some other tools:

Yoga With Adriene –- these are great, short yoga workouts, for all levels, with a lot of instruction.

Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Body. Also, listen to his inspiring podcast. He is really knowledgeable and on the cutting edge of physio-science, if that’s a word. I have not tried his Cheat Day strategy yet, because I first want to get down to my ideal weight. But, I am eager to cheat with discipline!

Beware of break downs that become take downs. You’ll find that you get knocked off your game by an illness, lack of sleep, a family event (children, death of a loved one, divorce) or an injury, and it’s hard to get back to your routine. Most people don’t. They decide it’s too overwhelming because they assume they have to restart where they left off. Don’t be one of those people. Recognize that you simply need to back up to any previous point of fitness. Start slowly, ease your way back into your routine. You’ll get there eventually. One book that might be helpful is by Dr. Phil Maffetone. He gives good guidance on working out gently, getting back to good health. (He also has his own low-carb diet theories, which jive pretty well with those of Dr. Hyman. See below.)

Your diet can feed you or deprive you of energy. A Warrior’s diet must be geared toward maximizing energy. I highly recommend tracking what you eat using FitBit’s software. Start your day with protein. I noticed it REALLY makes a difference. When I used to start my day with Oatmeal, I was starving by the afternoon, and craving sweets/carbs.

I have completely changed my morning routine and the cravings are gone.

These Dale’s bars are delicious and amazing: 20 grams of protein, some healthy fat and low sugar.

Eat protein and vegetables 4–5 times a day. I can’t tell you how this has changed my life and will change yours. Dr. Mark Hyman has a few excellent books that can provide you with details on this style of eating.

Sample Day:
8 am — Dale’s bar — OR 2 eggs and some greens
10 am — peanut butter and apple
12:30 pm — Lunch — salad with some lean protein
4 pm — High protein snack, with healthy fat, plus veggies — hummus and carrots or something similar
7 pm — Dinner — ½ plate of greens/veggies, 4 oz lean protein, ¼ brown rice

Delete sugar (your brain on Sugar, This is What Sugar Does to Your Brain) and high-glycemic carbs.

2. Forget Mentors: Find Your Spirit Animals
A Warrior needs Spirit Animals. (Or, as a non-warrior might say: “Create a Personal Advisory Board.”) A common mistake people make is to live in a silo and not realize they are part of a vast, connected ecosystem. In any career you embark upon, the people you meet are the people you will know for your entire life. So, be nice to everyone, but start looking for the very special people you will run with for the entire journey. Align yourself with “stars”. Your future will look like the people you surround yourself with. So, if you are attracted to slackers, you become slack. Hackers, you become, uh a hack….well, I think you get where I am going.

Forget Mentors. Mentorship is for cub scouts. Warriors attract and cultivate Spirit Animals, trusted advisors you will turn to over the years, and who will turn to you, for advice on all kinds of things at all junctures. Most probably, they will be male. Men still have most of the power. Besides, powerful women are besieged by people who seek their mentorship, so they are harder to reach.

You will stay lightly in touch with your Spirit Animals. Even if they are above you in the pecking order, treat them as equals. Do not quake before them. No man is a god. They may be at your company, or at other companies. You will meet them at industry events (that means you need to get out into the world). They will be the people who guide you and who recommend you for jobs. The worst thing you can do is wait till you NEED a job to reach out to them. Instead, schedule coffee periodically, update them on your work life and ask them how you can help with theirs. In between coffee/drink sessions, you may reach out with a specific question about a sticky work situation.

Do not get too personal. And do not let them get too personal with you. These are not your friends. They are work friends. It is not the same.

3. Warriors Dance
A Warrior is Unstoppable. Being unstoppable means seeing obstacles, acknowledging them, and dancing through or around them.

Example: During 2001, post-9/11 and the Internet crash of 2000, our Mediabistro clients were going out of business in droves and were not paying us the fees they owed. I had choices: send the receivables to a collections agency, and wait for the inevitable bankruptcy, only to get pennies on the dollar; or get aggressive, and get paid first. So, instead of waiting around, whenever a customer started teetering on the edge, I first called and politely asked for the money; then I started showing up without appointments at the doorsteps of my customers. I took a risk that they would be offended, but I walked away with checks. And deposited them immediately.

You don’t have to be running a company to follow this advice. I have come across plenty of people within organizations who I thought were unstoppable. Those are the people who take charge. They don’t wait to be told to do something by their bosses. They anticipate the next steps and propose them. They don’t come back with “I couldn’t figure out this problem.” They do the research first, then come back with “Here is a problem and some likely solutions for it.” They are the people who prioritize work, so they tackle the high-value, high-impact work as well as the niggling little fires that eat into the day. They stay late, work nights and put time in on weekends. They never play the project shell game with their bosses “You gave me that new task and so I couldn’t get to the other one.” They find a way to get it all done. And, yes, this cuts into your personal life.

4. Use War Paint (AKA, Do Some Personal Marketing)
You always think that you will be rewarded automatically for a job well-done. Wrong. You have to be known by the right person/people at your organization as the person who gets the job done well.

That means tracking your own successes, communicating them (tactfully) to your bosses and others, and reminding them at review time that you deserve to be rewarded. Any organization is a living hive-like entity in which everyone is jockeying for power. You don’t see that? The guys know it instinctively, and you may have already been outmaneuvered because you are not even in the game.

Another important strategy is keeping a weekly goal list/priorities and going over it with your boss. Don’t save it all up for your annual review. Each week, keep track of what you accomplished on a running list of Accomplishments. Keep everything fact-based, with numbers and quantitative measures where possible.

I cannot tell you how many times an employee came to me thrilled that he or she had accomplished a goal, but missed the point. They were prioritizing what they thought was right, but not what I wanted.

4A. Don’t Be “Othered”
Until the ratio in every office is 51% female, you are the Other by default. The Other doesn’t have needs that matter; the Other can be ignored. It’s easy to make someone an Other when they aren’t ever there. So, SHOW up when asked — and ask to be invited when not asked — to the beerfest, the Game of Thrones (GOT) event, the sci-fi book club meeting, the sports event. That is the way to be remembered when it’s time for the guys to hand out a sweet job.

Remember, exposure begets exposure. The more you show up, the more you will be asked, the more often you will be quoted in the press, the higher your visibility will be within your organization.

I am often the only woman on a panel, the only woman at a business dinner. I ask the organizer why he or she didn’t invite more women. They were invited, I am told, but they bailed at the last minute. Or, they said they didn’t have time. I always make a point of saying yes to appear on any panel, even if I am not ready, even if I don’t think I know what I am doing. The reason: every single time I’ve been on a panel, even when I barely prepared, I have been more prepared than the guys on the panel. So, the bar is lower than you think. Just go for it!

Maintain a social presence (Twitter or LinkedIn, or whatever is professionally in vogue) and venture your opinions about issues of the day/business issues — as much as is allowed by your employer, naturally. Be sure to engage with Influencers in your industry, retweet people who you believe you need to know. This is a subtle, but powerful way to stand out. The people I notice the most are the people who gently stalk me. Engage with them intelligently on these channels and on their blogs (or Medium posts).

I am a gentle stalker myself. I have a ROBUZZ account (full disclosure: I am an advisor) in order to keep track of what the influencers in my industry are up to. ROBUZZ is a News Tracking agent that is phenomenally good; it is typically used by Sales/BD People, but really everyone should use it. It accesses 750,000+ news sources tracked, in real-time — including behind-the-paywall, major publications, industry trade publications, alumni news and local/long-tail news. I uploaded my entire address book into the system. Then, any time one of my contacts (or a person I am tracking) is mentioned in the news, I can be the first person to Tweet, Comment on LinkedIn or email to congratulate them. (It’s also fully integrated into Salesforce in the App Exchange.)

5. Speak Leader Language
Frame your work like a Leader would. Would JFK say “I was on the team in the White House that oversaw the engineers who put a man on the moon?” No! He’d say “I put a man on the moon.” That’s called leadership. I’m not arguing that you steal the show from your hard-working colleagues. Just consider what large contribution you had and claim it. (Of course, recognize those who contributed — but only if you mean it.)

Reduce the use of soft/demure statements like “I feel” “I believe” “I don’t know” “sorry” and exchange for leader statements. “I know” “It is” “It’s clear” “the fact is…”

I have noticed that you have to tailor your language to the people you are speaking to, communicating with. Just like dressing for success, you have to speak for success. When I am emailing millennials, I find myself naturally using their words: “cool” “rad” “for sure” “psyched” and when I am emailing someone older, I tend toward a more formal tone. I start the note, “Hi Bill,” rather than launching right into a conversation with no Greeting. I avoid “cool” “rad” “for sure” and “psyched” and instead use “wonderful” “certainly” “thrilled.” See the difference?

Learn to Bluff like the guys. Many of the women who come to me looking for investment advice do not heed this. I KNOW they are probably powerhouses, because I have been on the other side of that table — tentatively asking for money. Yet, I have to say they are less convincing than equally talented guys. Why is that? Why do guys bluff so much better than women do? Word choice. That is the reason. Word choice, body posture, dress and attitude. I am not beating up on the women. But, it does seem that they are less sure of their success when they come to me. The ones who are sure, those are the ones who get the investment. Look me straight in the eye, and speak confidently with all you’re armed and prepared with.

6. Your Greatest Weapon: Your EQ
Get an inside game going with your boss or your boss’s boss. While it’s bad form to break the chain of command, it’s wise to get to know your boss (and boss’s boss) socially.

Yes, I am suggesting you walk a fine and dangerous line, but it may help you slip ahead. How should you do this? Well, next time you are at a team event, a company outing, or even just in the cafeteria at work, instead of going to sit/stand with your comfortable work friends, take a chance and speak with someone new, someone higher up, your boss’s boss. Try to develop rapport. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t, no harm done. Presuming it happens, ask him/her if it would be okay to go grab coffee some time; don’t have an agenda. This is about becoming known to a higher up guy (or gal; but much of the time, this is still a guy). Guys are tribal and loyal. You need to be in their tribe, or on their team, in order not to be always left behind on the bench.

7. Embrace Your Terror
I could have retired after selling my company. A lot of my friends said “Well, you don’t have to work anymore. You can just have fun.” But, what is the point? You want to always be on a path of fire. Stasis is Death for a Warrior. So, right now, I am trying something utterly new and terrifying: Venture Capital. My first attempt at entering the field was classically female: I wanted to learn from the guys. You can’t go to venture capital school, but you can work for a venture firm. I thought it would be easy for me. I could just walk into a VC’s office and they would welcome me: “Wow! You built a company from scratch, led a team of 40 employees, succeeded despite the odds, achieved profitability and growth after 2000 and 9/11 hit. You can recognize another great founder when you see one. You’d be great at this!” After all, that’s what I have seen them do with young men who have half my experience.

But instead of being welcoming, the boys in the VC club told me where I stood in no uncertain terms. Too old, not as smart as they were and lacking the ability to Pattern Recognize. This is code for “I have seen a lot of deals, so now I see some patterns in my experiential data.”

So, screw it. I decided to do it on my own, as so many women are now doing. I started Flatiron Investors last year. I am using my background as a founder to host events for founders and getting access to the best possible deal flow; I am using my skills as a journalist to do killer diligence on my deals and I am strategizing as any good Warrior would.

It isn’t worth trying if you are not terrified. Ask yourself this right now: Am I comfortable? Are the tasks and projects I am doing comfortable for me to do? When was the last time I had to push past fear to do something? Crash through your personal plateaus by taking on something high risk and high value that you don’t feel qualified or ready to do. Always aim to push yourself out of that comfort zone, and be prepared to pleasantly surprise yourself.

When you are back at your desk, Google “He was a genius” — spoiler alert, the results will number around 1,360,000.

Now, Google “She was a genius” — only 373,000 results.

I know this methodology is not scientific, but it is an indicator. And we perpetuate it ourselves. The way we speak of other women is the way we are all spoken of.

Remember that. Think twice before you trash talk another successful woman. And, don’t hesitate to call one a genius.

We Warriors have to level up those numbers!