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“Stay open to learning everything and hearing different perspectives”, Dr. Leada Malek and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Stay open to learning everything and hearing different perspectives. Learn the basics and develop a strong foundation. Being a board-certified sports clinical specialist in physical therapy takes time. It’s important to master being a generalist beforehand, so that you have the skills to think outside the box and be the advanced clinician you aspire to […]

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Stay open to learning everything and hearing different perspectives. Learn the basics and develop a strong foundation. Being a board-certified sports clinical specialist in physical therapy takes time. It’s important to master being a generalist beforehand, so that you have the skills to think outside the box and be the advanced clinician you aspire to be. Be okay with failure or setbacks. It takes rejection to shake things up and push you change your way, and it will always end up how it should. Trust the process.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Leada Malek.

Dr. Leada Malek is a licensed physical therapist and board-certified sports specialist located in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is one of the 9% of therapists in the US who are specialized in sports therapy. Dr. Malek is the founder of a virtual physical therapy business that offers remote physical therapy and personal training. She started her business to help reach people during the pandemic who would otherwise not have access to these resources. Dr. Malek has worked with competitive athletes, professional dancers, and active individuals from all levels. She is a volunteer physical therapist for triathlons and local semi-professional soccer and basketball teams. She also consults for technology companies and leads corporate wellness seminars. Her professional insight has been featured in numerous media outlets including Popsugar, SELF, Livestrong, and Thrive Global.

Dr. Malek believes in retraining the body as a whole, and not just the area of discomfort. She believes fitness should be a lifestyle adopted for health and longevity of the mind and body, and that movement is medicine.


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 the San Francisco Bay Area and studied here through my graduate program. I played volleyball until college and was very active growing up. I am a first-generation Iranian-American. Education was held to high standard in my family. I’m fluent in Farsi and learned to be fluent in Spanish from school. Medicine has been in my family for as long as I know, however I was the first female in my family to pursue a career in healthcare. I’m third out of four children, so I had a little bit of middle-child tendencies in terms of bending the rules sometimes, but I always got my work done! Between volleyball, extracurricular, dance, school, and family obligations, my schedule was very full growing up.

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

My grandfather and uncle were both physicians. I was taught the core values of patient care at an age far before I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist. As I got to college, I was interested in two things: helping people (i.e. a possible health major) and graphic design. I had to decide on one major because I wantedf to finish my degree in four years. Ultimately, I chose Exercise & Sport Science as my B.S. because I knew I would have a career that would bring me peace of mind knowing I was helping people. From there, it was choosing which specific career path. I worked in the Athletic Training Room as an undergraduate student and shadowed all kinds of healthcare practitioners. In the end, using movement and exercise as medicine and being a large part of patient recovery stories is what solidified physical therapy for me.

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?

There have been many! My parents have been incredibly supportive in encouraging me to continuously reach higher. I’ve had clinical instructor that taught me key skills and habits that you don’t necessary learn in the classroom. However, one story that stands out is my undergraduate mentor, who was the Head Athletic Trainer at the University of San Francisco. I started working in the training room my second year in college. I was nervous, young, and always was shy to start. I would observe first, more than “do.” My mentor pushed me to be a leader, shared his expectations from me, and was encouraging in a way that made me feel safe to explore and make myself better. I remember he told me that he expected me to receive the Athletic Training Student of the Year award before I was a senior (which was rare). By the time senior year came around, I had developed leadership skills and the drive to learn even more. This made me want to push myself. He ultimately helped me choose physical therapy as a career based on what he saw in me and knew about the field. I am forever grateful!

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 made the mistake of saying “yes” too much at my last job. I worked at a busy outpatient clinic and saw a lot of patients. It was normal to double-book appointments. Sometimes people would show up and not be on the schedule due to whatever error. In an effort to accommodate, I would agree to see them anyways. I learned this wasn’t the best approach for me because I could not give them the attention they deserved because I was too busy. It taught me quality patient care was an important value for me, and it also taught me what my limits were. Now as my own boss, I only take on what I know I can deliver on because compromising quality is out of the question.

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?

Stay open to learning everything and hearing different perspectives. Learn the basics and develop a strong foundation. Being a board-certified sports clinical specialist in physical therapy takes time. It’s important to master being a generalist beforehand, so that you have the skills to think outside the box and be the advanced clinician you aspire to be. Be okay with failure or setbacks. It takes rejection to shake things up and push you change your way, and it will always end up how it should. Trust the process.

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?

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg. I started my business to help reach people during the pandemic. I started an Instagram to help share my approach to physical therapy and give free information to people as a resource so they can get to know me and hopefully I could empower them to take care of their bodies. I did all this after being furloughed from my job due to the impact of COVID-19 on business hours. At first, I was hesitant about “giving out too much free information” because obviously there was a financial concern with needing to build my business. However, this book validated my thoughts of wanting to give, especially during this time. The book is about being strategic with business, but truly just giving all you know and trusting that it will come back to you. It’s a great philosophy to go by and keeps me grounded in my “why” as I venture as an entrepreneur.

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

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present. — Lao Tzu. This quote keeps me grounded. I’m a nostalgic person and I tend to stick to things that I know, on top of that I fear change because I don’t like uncertainty. This quote has always been a reminder to be to stay in the “now” because focusing on the past or future only hinders me.

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

I recently created a free guide on workstation ergonomics to help people with their work setups, especially with so much of the country working from home. You can find it at https://simpleguide.drmalekpt.com. It’s a free e-book with all my favorite tips on how to achieve a more comfortable ergonomic set up which is incredibly important if you’re at the desk all day. I think people will gain the confidence in knowing where things go and how to position their bodies, enabling them to get through the day with less pain and more energy! I plan on creating an expanded version with mobility tips and routines to go along with it…so stay tuned!

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?

It’s simple. Habits allow consistency, and consistency enables progress. In life goals or health goals, and even on the neuromuscular and physiological level — our bodies need consistency. I think it’s helpful to work from setting your end goal first, then work backwards into dissecting what it is you need to get there. For example, to reach a fitness goal of doing 30 push ups in a row, you’ll need core strength, arm strength, and proper form. You’ll need all these things to happen with every workout, say, three times per week for four weeks. By knowing how much it takes, you can set a habit to keep working towards a goal. The same applies for daily productivity. If I have x amount of work to get done and I know I only have the morning before work hours to do it, then I know I need to get up earlier to get it completed. Habits required: good sleep, early wake up call, and productive pre-work hours.

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

One habit that isn’t as concrete is the mindset of staying curious. I make it a habit to ask “why?” as often as possible! This allows me to always build on my clinical skills, stay up to date on research, and grow as a person. I love approaching my work with “stay curious” as a mindset. Other habits are always checking my work and grading myself on things I get done. I never like to make the same mistake twice, so I’m always examining what could have been better than before.

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

Make small goals

Make larger goals

Be okay with a “miss” — Understand ONE missed day does not mean you have to start over.

Set reminders: post-it notes, block off time in your calendar, or set a reminder on your phone.

Make non-negotiable time to make sure it happens: For example, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5–5:30 are your new walk time time. No but’s or if’s, it is now IN your schedule.

Reward yourself

Stopping bad habits can be overwhelming for some people. It’s important to start small and recognize that it will take time to break. Habits can be formed over 60 days, so be patient. Change one part of the habit at a time and break it down for yourself first. Then it won’t be so daunting and celebrating small wins will be motivation to keep going.

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.

Wellness: Habits of maintaining movement will lead to optimum wellness and exercise has continuously shown to have incredible benefits on the body — movement truly is medicine. I make time to move at least 20 minutes a day, even if it’s slow. It always provides me with a reminder of what my body is needing more of less of.

Performance: Be critical and celebrate your wins. For example, I hosted my first Instagram Live on WFH posture this last week and I downloaded my video to critique myself after — cringe! I really don’t enjoy watching myself on camera, but I knew I had to do it. I was so nervous and it showed in my first five minutes (to me, at least). I made a list of how my camera setup could be better, what I could explain better, and took a deep breath. Then I celebrated that I even hosted one at all! I had officially gone live on a platform and I never thought I would. It’s important to be picky, but it’s imperative not to beat yourself up, especially if you’re working really hard.

Focus: Make non-negotiable work time with no distractions. As an entrepreneur and WFH right now, I’ve found countless things that can sprout up and distract me from not doing the deadline work. I’m still working on this habit myself because I think it can always be better, but scheduling my own day at home has been hard but pivotal. I put blocks in my calendar where I can only respond to emails, or only work out. Otherwise I get a lot of half-done projects that drive me nuts.

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

Wellness: Plan out your movement for the day and set a movement goal — and hold yourself to it. This will keep you motivated to put in the time even when you don’t feel like it. By moving a little every day, even if it’s just 20 minutes, it gives you a chance to connect with your body and check in with yourself.

Performance: Always ask how you could have done better, but always follow up with understanding today was better than yesterday because it was another day of practice. Put a post-it in front of your workstation with whatever phrase you tell yourself that always makes you want to be better. Have it in front of you and hand write it. There’s power in written intention!

Focus: Use your calendar! Block off time and make it a “non-negotiable” with yourself. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Get it done, no exceptions. We do it to other things in our life, why not do it for our own goals to develop a habit?

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

Review your performance, compare it to a standard you admire, and give yourself breaks. In sports, we have statistics that tell us how we performed. In life, it’s a measure of productivity or work. Perhaps this is because of my background as an athlete and physical therapist, but I think you can use the same approach for both. I review how I did; this allows me to see what I have been better.

Hold a standard to which you aspire to be like; this allows you to set a goal for how much better and in what ways. I look up to other established physical therapists and movement leaders, particularly women because I am in sports and women are outnumbered. This motivates me to break barriers and reach the next level.

Finally, give yourself breaks. Recovery days are important for the body and mind. A car can’t run on overdrive forever, neither can the body. So while it’s important to push yourself, it’s also important to recognize when it’s time to slow down and recharge. I make it a point to cue into what my body is telling me in order to do this, whether it’s neck tension or fatigue — it will let me know!

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

To review your performance: You can set some measures for yourself. Make a list of items that you always check for, and then refer back to them when you do sit for your self-review.

In setting a standard: Pick two or three people or goals you aspire to be like or reach. By having an end goal or something you hope to be like, it helps refocus your efforts and re-evaluate your methods in getting there.

Take breaks: Choose a recovery time and stick to it. Pick one day per week or one hour in the day where you check in with your mental and physical battery levels. Do you feel tired? Are you mentally fatigued? Do you have pain or symptoms? Stress can impact performance, so it’s important to set times to keep it in check.

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

Remove distractions: For example, I had to turn off of notifications, so they don’t keep buzzing and distract me during work time.

Get enough sleep: For myself, I know I do best with eight hours, I do okay with six to seven hours, and I am struggling with five! I try to aim for at least six nightly.

Set up your environment: For example, I know having my phone next to me will tempt me to look at it and check social media, text messages, etc. This always ends up in wasted time for me and that’s important. So, I put my phone far away when I don’t need it.

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

Remove distractions: Remove extra unnecessary stimuli that are in your workspace if you can.

Get enough sleep: This speaks for itself. Find your optimum sleep time that you feel best the next day. You can use activity tracker to help monitor this, too.

Set up your environment: If your phone or remote are distracting, move them away from yourself so you have to be extra aware that you are breaking your focus when you reach for them. Make it easy for yourself to stay focused by decluttering your desk and setting it up comfortable in regards to ergonomics. The last thing you need is neck tension or back pain to break up your flow.

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?

I actually tend to achieve flow when I enforce all three of my habits for wellness, focus, and performance. When all three of these areas are at their optimum level for me, my drive feels unstoppable! I feel like I can keep going, working, and I’m getting things done in record time. The days where I’ve felt myself achieve flow I’ve slept well, gotten up early, set an organized schedule for myself with built-in exercise time and breaks to eat, and set up my environment with minimal distractions. If you make an effort to try and lock in all three areas at their optimum levels just once a month, you can start to achieve Flow more regularly in your life. You can expect that day to be more productive and you’ll be happier having done it, which motivate and encourage you to want to do it even more.

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.

Mandatory wellness breaks during the workday with goals of optimizing health and longevity! Imagine if companies would set aside one hour a day that did not take away from employee break and lunch time and allowed individuals to invest in their mental and/or physical health. People would have the time, energy, and desire to take care of themselves and it would break the overdrive non-stop work mentality. They would be educated on the benefits of exercise beyond the aesthetics an it would embed this as a habit for good health and a longer life. I dream of the day this gets appreciated! Until then, I will try to influence as many people as I can.

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 🙂

Serena Williams! She is passionate about health, confidence, and fitness. Her work ethic is unmatched and so are her humanitarian efforts. I admire her advocacy and drive to do better in the world while being such a role model to other women and young athletes. Not to mention, how she isn’t afraid of speaking her mind. I’m about that.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow my Instagram for the most content www.instagram.com/drmalekpt or my website www.drmalekpt.com. You can also follow my blog www.medium.com/@drmalekpt where I’ll continue to write about important topics.

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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