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“Identify the why”, Dr. Michael Roizen and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Identify the why — Motivation is essential for optimal work and sport performance, and people can find motivation in a number of ways but one way to translate it into a habit is identifying the “why” behind your tasks. At work that may be taking a moment to consider the bigger purpose to each assignment. So much […]

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Identify the why — Motivation is essential for optimal work and sport performance, and people can find motivation in a number of ways but one way to translate it into a habit is identifying the “why” behind your tasks. At work that may be taking a moment to consider the bigger purpose to each assignment. So much of performance is mental, and determining what your driving factor is can be a huge motivator as well — who or why are you pushing yourself for? What is the goal? Create a habit out of changing your mindset about each challenge you face both physically and mentally.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus, and a Professor at the Learner College of Medicine of Cleveland Clinic at Case Westen Reserve University

Dr. Michael Roizen is chief wellness officer emeritus of the Cleveland Clinic, and served as founding chair of its Wellness Institute from 2007 to 2017. Certified in internal medicine and anesthesiology, he is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College and Alpha Omega Alpha honor society from University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, and served 16 years on U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committees. He has written more than 190 peer-reviewed scientific publications, four New York Times #1 best sellers, and nine overall best sellers. A recipient of an Emmy, an Ellie, and the Paul G. Rogers best medical communicator award from the National Library of Medicine, Dr. Roizen is devoted to helping people live younger.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Buffalo, NY to parents who emphasized education, with an older sister who taught me how to ask questions. My mom and dad sacrificed to provide us with a greater education and continued to encourage our interest in school. My parents feared polio, so I was kept inside much of summer until I was lucky enough to be in the first group vaccinated. I gained an appreciation of preventive medical care; after immunization, I was able to venture outside more often to play which I saw as a major benefit of a small shot!

I loved cold weather and snow, was active in playing second base, and learned a game called squash that helped get me into college (there weren’t many squash players at the high school level and the college I wanted to attend –Williams — had such a team). I was told by a high school coach that I wasn’t talented enough to succeed at that game. Being told I was not talented enough motivated me to work harder; I learned I could out-condition and outwork opponents. The game fascinated me because of the way you could use geometric shots (here was a math-science application) to make my opponents work harder and tire so I could outlast them. Many years later I headed the United States Squash Racquets Medical Advisory Committee, got protective eye wear made mandatory, and even became good enough at the game to captain the American team in the Pan American games.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

The hard work of my parents and study habits of my sister motivated me throughout my entire life but when I was 9, I caught a very serious disease — I was running a very high temperature, had shaking chills and a terribly sore throat. A pediatrician made a house call, administered a shot and hours later I felt much better. Despite having experienced a terrible illness, the doctor was able to treat me, and I was back to playing outside only days later. After that episode, I determined I wanted to be a doctor and help people feel better.

My parents and teachers told me how difficult that was and how I’d have to get great grades. That motivated me to learn how to grind for school as well as for baseball and squash. The advisor I was assigned the first day of high school told me that if I worked hard, I might be able to make the honor roll by middle of my junior year. I made honor roll the following quarter and when I ran to tell him, his response, “have we lowered our standards that much,” motivated me to work hard to prove him wrong — that I really could compete academically.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I was lucky enough to be exposed to many who motivated me to learn science, and then helped me do research. Phil Seamans in high school, Hodge Margraf PhD in college, Ken Melmon MD in medical school, Irv Kopin, MD, in postdoc, Ted Eger MD and Bill Hamilton MD in my first job, and Jon Moss, MD, PhD and Sidney Unobskey in helping me negotiate every other job, all mentored me and then helped me when I stumbled.

My first scientific paper in my postdoc was rejected. Irv Kopin, my mentor at that time, saw my dejection and immediately sent me to Julius Axelrod in the next lab at NIH. He told me that the paper he felt got him the Nobel prize was rejected by 7 journals and emphasized again that outworking others and persistence are what made him succeed.

I kept following that lead. Ted Eger edited that edition of the paper with me. He wrote more in red ink than I had typed. There was so much red that I vowed if I ever edited anyone else’s papers I would use a less striking ink, say purple. I have been an editor or associate editor of six medical journals and have never used red, only purple.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I was lucky enough to be exposed to many people who told me I couldn’t succeed — while it may seem like a negative, their doubt motivated me to prove them wrong. Three weeks into my college career I was asked by my English teacher to see him in his office after class. There, he asked me what I wanted to do in life. I told him I wanted to be a doctor and his response was, “good, you’ll never make it in a field where you have to write.” I was shocked, and stumbling for a reply, I asked him what his life goal was. He said he wanted to write a NY Times bestseller, and, in that moment, I vowed to myself that I would write a NY Times bestseller which I achieved with YOU: The Owner’s Manual.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Whatever you chose to do, work as hard as you can to learn all aspects of the position and never stop trying to be great at it.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

All of C.P. Snow’s novels — they combine science, romance, and intrigue; and persistence always wins.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I have two favorite quotes that have motivated me throughout the years — the first is from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”

And one from my co-author Jim Perko, “food is a relationship- only eat food you love and that loves you back.”

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’ve dedicated my life to helping motivate people to change behavior to make themselves healthier (even younger). As part of that effort, I get asked about supplements often, and so have studied that field. When researching vitamins and supplements that may support respiratory health and protect again respiratory infections, I learned about bovine colostrum. Coming out of this new research, I connected with a company specializing in the ingredient and asked to join the scientific advisory board to help design studies that would prove and publicize the benefits. I’ve been thrilled to be part of the scientific advisory board at PanTheryx, a nutrition and biotechnology company dedicated to research and commercialization of bovine colostrum.

While not many are as familiar, colostrum is the first food a mother provides for her offspring and similar to human breastfeeding, cows also produce colostrum that is full of immune factors, growth factors, protective proteins and more that is beneficial for humans. Bovine colostrum is available as a wellness supplement in capsule and powdered form and there has been substantial data that shows colostrum helps foster decreases in GI disfunction after taking NSAIDs and helping support gut and immune health. I’m excited to work with PanTheryx to spread awareness of the use of colostrum in dietary supplements and help the general public understand the wide range of benefits including immune health, digestive health, and more.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Creating positive habits and having a routine is extremely beneficial for both physical and mental health; habits provide consistency that your body and mind crave. Morning routines may help people wake up on a positive note and prepare them for the day — for example, if you create a habit of drinking a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, doing elliptical for 20 minutes hard, and not eating until 11 am, your body will eventually become accustomed to this routine and look forward to it. By doing something mentally stimulating like journaling in the evening, it can help build strong emotional and mental health care and act to manage stressors; adding a form of physical wellness like taking vitamins and supplements consistently can give your body the support it needs.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Healthy habits have been incredibly important in my career and life. Exercising weekly, walking 10,000 steps every day and writing three thank you notes nightly are some habits I’ve used to try to stay young. I’ve always been interested in nutrition and have found that healthy eating habits, such as drinking coffee, eating during an 8 hour period every day, having healthy meals like salads and salmon, has kept me feeling great and also has a huge impact on my mental wellbeing. By incorporating ONLY nutritious ingredients into my diet I’ve really followed that phrase — “food is a relationship- only eat food you love and that loves you back.” Those habits, plus doing intermittent fasting right is the basis of our new book, “The What to Eat When Cookbook.”

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The key to creating good habits is consistency and having a strong support system. Sometimes developing a good habit like walking 10,000 steps a day, means choosing something small to start with and sticking with it, practicing every day and eventually it will feel like second nature. It’s okay if you fail but be sure to correct and get back on track the next day.

Mehmet Oz has been my buddy over the years, he and I worked together for 10 years and still do, and his support helped me kick one of my bad habits. At one point in my life, I was addicted to Diet Dr. Pepper and was consuming 36 a day for over 30 years. To get me to quit, he conspired with my administrative associate, Beth Grubb, to video conference in on me on live TV for an intervention and as a result, I have not had a soft drink since. Stopping a bad habit requires both a substitution of a good habit (black coffee in my case) and a friend to help you address the behavior and hold you accountable in ceasing it.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Eating well — consuming only food you love and that loves your mind and body back is the best habit you can instill for your physical wellness. This not only applies to the types of food you eat, but when you eat as well. I believe that science supports eating with the sun and coordinating your meals with your circadian rhythm.

Taking the right vitamins/supplements — So many think of wellness from a reactive standpoint but taking preventive measures and giving your body the support it needs really elevates your health. By supplementing your regular diet with additional vitamins and nutrients as an insurance plan against an inadequate diet, you can actually reduce the risk of stressors in the future. One example of this is by getting into the habit of taking vitamins and/or supplements each day. Bovine colostrum is one supplement that I recommend often as it has been found to have a plethora of immune and gut health benefits that can support your body and prepare you as we head into cold and flu season.

Getting enough rest — Sleep is just as important as movement for our bodies and our health. It allows your body to recover, reset and revive so that you have enough energy to be productive. Creating a bedtime routine to help get a good night’s rest is an excellent habit to work on. For some, that can include turning off their phone an hour before going to sleep, reading a book, or finding a way to wind down and relax so your body prepares for a restful night. And I’d add only having red wavelength lights in your bedroom and bathroom.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Developing habits just takes practice. First, set measurable goals that include a realistic timeline and simple achievements like being in bed by 10pm each night or adding 1000 steps to your walk in the morning. When it comes to wellness goals, small changes can have a large impact. Start slowly by having a conversation with your doctor or starting to do more research and then gradually add in new components to your routine like learning how to cook a different vegetable every week or meditating for 30 minutes a day.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Physical Activity — Exercise is a great habit for both work and sport performance, and even better to help you live younger longer. The body adapts very quickly, so the more you exercise, the better you become at whatever activity you choose. Encouraging a habit of practice and a regular exercise regimen, will help improve one’s optimal sport performance. Similarly, exercising can also help work performance in a number of ways. Whether it’s through exercising your craft or your brain, you can get better at your job or study or managing stress through practicing as well.

Listen to your body — Humans aren’t perfect and sometimes our bodies can use an extra boost. There are so many vitamins and supplements out there that can help with sport recovery and performance. Many amino acids have been found to support recovery and increased protein intake through nutrition or products like whey protein help repair and rebuild muscle. In addition to the immune and digestive health benefits of bovine colostrum, the supplement has also been found to increase athletic performance abilities. Work with your doctor to determine the most appropriate supplements for you and begin to create a routine of when and what to take for optimal performance.

Identify the why — Motivation is essential for optimal work and sport performance, and people can find motivation in a number of ways but one way to translate it into a habit is identifying the “why” behind your tasks. At work that may be taking a moment to consider the bigger purpose to each assignment. So much of performance is mental, and determining what your driving factor is can be a huge motivator as well — who or why are you pushing yourself for? What is the goal? Create a habit out of changing your mindset about each challenge you face both physically and mentally.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

I’d recommend striving towards a daily goal or habit — some studies have shown that it takes 2–3 months for a habit to stick, so by repeating a routine daily it can help train your body and mind to think of these actions as second nature. If you get up and go to the gym every single day, you will eventually see it as part of your daily schedule as opposed as going a few times a week and viewing it as an option.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Make a to-do list — Getting yourself organized can relieve stress and anxiety and also make you more efficient. I add wellness activities to my personal list and call it my “choices count” list. Physically writing out a to-do list and ordering each task by prioritization allows you to dive into work with a full understanding of what’s ahead and help you focus on the current project without worrying about what you should be doing. Don’t forget to mark things off as you complete them, this gives a sense of accomplishment to keep you motivated.

Allow yourself breaks — No one is capable of an unlimited amount of focus and in order to prevent burnout, it’s important to take an occasional pause to reset. Create a habit of scheduling breaks for yourself throughout the workday to let your brain recharge and regather your focus. I take a walk every 30 minutes to help incorporate movement into my day and give myself a time to refocus.

Create your own schedule — Multitasking diverts your attention into different directions and can actually be an inefficient way to get things done. Maximize your energy and focus by dedicating it to one task at a time. While that may not always be possible depending on your job, get into a habit of setting your own schedule and using your time to the fullest. Try to kickstart a routine by blocking off time dedicated to getting specific tasks done and don’t let yourself get distracted by your phone or other possible interruptions.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Focus can be so easily interrupted, so work on shutting off your phone or turning off notifications that might steal your attention when you’re trying to get something else done. Giving yourself an allotted amount of time to get something done is another way you can decrease procrastination and is something simple that can be done by creating personal deadlines or setting a timer.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

Many times, I write or read straight through the day and only if my alarm signals, do I pause. I love translating science into actionable habits for people. The key is to help others you influence find something they love to do as their work. That is one of the jobs of a leader — finding the right role for each person you lead. If you love it, you’ll soon be in flow.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire one movement, it would be to help everyone get to 6+ 2 normals every year — normal BP, FBS, Body Mass Index, LDL cholesterol, stress level, cotinine (an end product of tobacco) and then to see a primary care provider and get immunizations up to date. If the majority of people were able to reach these important health goals, it would decrease chronic disease by over 90%. Our genes haven’t changes since 1974, just our habits — and there’s still time to change them back.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to connect with Mitch McConnell or Jeff Bezos to try and help both understand the importance of proper healthcare and getting to 6+2normals for employees and Medicare participants. We have an amazing incentive plan at the Cleveland Clinic that has saved the clinic over 1 billion dollars for its 101,000 employees, and over 250 million dollars saved for the employees as well as helped get their health to a place where they may live longer. If similar voluntary participation were obtained by Medicare and Medicaid recipients nationwide, they would gain an extra 10% of disposable income yearly and the US government would save over 600 billion in expenses yearly.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please feel free to follow me on Twitter, @DrMikeRoizen!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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