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“Being positive”, Dr. Paul Edward Kaloostian and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Being positive. Mental optimism is critical in success. Thinking positive at all times, even with failure can mean the difference between life and death. We all fail and we all experience very difficult life events. However, instead of suicide and drug/alcohol abuse, a positive approach of being thankful for the failure and thinking often of […]

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Being positive. Mental optimism is critical in success. Thinking positive at all times, even with failure can mean the difference between life and death. We all fail and we all experience very difficult life events. However, instead of suicide and drug/alcohol abuse, a positive approach of being thankful for the failure and thinking often of all the positive aspects of one’s life, will dramatically reverse any failure and automatically make you a success! There are numerous examples daily of failures that challenge our psyche and it is of the utmost importance to not allow yourself to fail with the failures, but to stay strong and focus on positives.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Edward Kaloostian MD.

Dr. Paul E. Kaloostian is a Board-Certified Neurosurgeon and Diplomat of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons who practices his love of medicine and neurosurgery in Riverside and Los Angeles. Paul is fluent in English, Spanish, and Armenian.

Dr. Kaloostian attended Providence High School, a national blue ribbon high school, where his interest in the Neurosciences began. He spent his summers studying neuroscience, physics, and organic chemistry at Brown University, Stanford University, and Harvard University. He then matriculated into the extremely competitive University of California BS/BA/MD accelerated program out of high school. This rigorous 7-year program is the only one of its kind in California and one of a handful across the United States.

After finishing medical school at the prestigious David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Kaloostian attended the University of New Mexico Medical Center for Neurological Surgery residency where he excelled in Cranial and Spinal Surgery, including Neuro-Trauma. He then completed a prestigious Complex Spine and Spinal Oncology instructorship under the mentorship of the renowned Ziya Gokaslan MD, FACS at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Kaloostian is a prolific author, researcher, and scientist having authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, over 130 book chapters, 12 peer-reviewed scientific textbooks, 2 poetry books, and 1 novel.

Dr. Kaloostian has served on over 20 local and national leadership committees and had been elected twice to serve as the only surgical resident representative on the National Surgical Caucus Executive Committee.

Dr. Kaloostian has been very involved locally and nationally in medical care health policy, with publications and oral presentations at national conferences. He has served as a reviewer for over 40 peer reviewed scientific journals in neurosurgery and medicine, and is on the Editorial Board of over 10 scientific journals.


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 Los Angeles in an Armenian household with parents who were both prominent physicians who instilled in us three kids (who all became physicians!) the duty of excelling academically and healing those who are sick. You can probably imagine the dinner table conversations (let’s just say we got used to hearing about heart attacks and strokes and other dangerous conditions). My grandparents were an integral part of my life as well. My grandpa Eddie was a truck driver from Fresno who was very business savvy and had a heart of gold. He instilled in me the value of respecting everyone around me and enjoying every sight and sound of the world. My great grandma also raised me and helped teach me Armenian and instilled in me simplicity and love for my culture.

Growing up, I would join my parents at work at the hospital and I would see firsthand their talent, love, work ethic and dedication to their profession of medicine. I witnessed countless cases of patients who were very sick who were nurtured back to health, and they were so very thankful after appropriate treatment from my parents. I was fascinated by this potential of being able to directly positively influence another human being’s life during their greatest time of need (sickness), and thus began my interest in entering the medical profession when I was a child.

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

My parents inspired me to pursue a career in medicine as I was raised with that duty and obligation to learn about the human body and mind, and to harness that knowledge and apply it to those who were sick and in their greatest time of need. In terms of deciding on Neurosurgery, which I ultimately decided to pursue, I was significantly influenced by a professor at Brown University during a summer program abroad. The professor was knowledgeable, always available at office hours to answer questions I had, organized in his teaching, loved teaching students and even wrote the textbook we used! I was introduced to the structure and function of the neuron, the cell that makes up our nervous system for the brain and spinal cord. I remember learning for the very first time how a neuron was organized and how each cellular organ within the neuron worked to create life. The function of these neurons is what keeps us awake, allows our heart to beat, our lungs to breathe, and our eyes, arms and legs to perform their functions that we often take for granted. What marvelous structures we humans are and to have the privilege of entering into another person’s brain and spinal cord to abolish pain and dysfunction has been an opportunity of a lifetime 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?

Numerous people have encouraged me in my life, including my parents and grandparents. However, my wife Talia has been a beacon of love, support, encouragement and faith. Despite being immensely successful in her business ventures, and despite being a fantastic mother to our two children, she always finds time to encourage me in my ventures, to push me through obstacles beyond my comfort level and to humble me to reality. She has been my strength and has truly been invaluable for me during my journey in life. In my search for my ideal neurosurgical position after training, my wife travelled with me (did not have kids yet) around the United States as I worked at a variety of hospitals needing neurosurgical coverage. She not only encouraged me to travel, but came with me. She walked the walk with me and we actually had a blast. So, I am very thankful and blessed to have such a kind, loving and encouraging wife who has influenced me in numerous ways to become the person that I am today. She is truly a beacon of light in my life.

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?

In the field of neurosurgery, there aren’t too many funny things that happen, unfortunately. Patients are often very sick and the mood as one can expect is always very serious and formula based. However, in choosing the particular avenue to set up my practice, that has been quite a journey full of mistakes; but yet now very content in finding my niche. One would think that working 15 years straight, without a break, 130-hour work weeks, minimal sleep, operating on many thousands of patients, excelling academically and publishing peer reviewed manuscripts would be the hardest part of becoming a brain and spinal surgeon. Little did I know, that it was the post-training events, full of hospital-based bureaucracy, a broken medical system, competitive and unethical partners and limits placed on doctor’s practices, that would be the most difficult adventures to conquer. Private practice has ended up being my niche, and had I known this from the beginning I would have avoided lots of anxiety. Nevertheless, the journey as I look back was amazing, and actually made me into the person that I am today. In other words, without the struggles, I would not even be close to the person I am today.

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?

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO FAIL, AND DON’T LET FAILING SLOW YOU DOWN

I have experienced countless failures in my life, and to fail in my opinion, is to show the world that you are human. But with my failures, each and every time, has come success that is unimaginable and much larger than the associated failures. There are numerous paths to achieving your desired goal, and just because one window may close on you, be creative and steadfast in searching for a door that will lead you to the promised land (your goal). That door may lead you down a path that may take you a bit longer to achieve your goal, but trust me what I say, that the journey is a beautiful one and the result of achieving your desired goal tastes and feels better than anything you can ever imagine.

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?

“Death Be Not Proud” by John Gunther.

This book was a big influence on my life as it described a young man with a deadly brain tumor. The book showcases the journey of a young man with his father as they go to a variety of neurological institutes around the world, searching for a cure. Unfortunately, a cure is not found, and despite numerous operations, the young man passes away. Nevertheless, the courageousness of this young man, the relationship between father and son, the determination of the young man undergoing numerous brain surgeries with hopes of saving his life are deep heartfelt lessons of life that we should all embrace in our own lives. This book shows us the truth and serenity and beauty of life, and that in essence, life and death are one. As we live, we slowly die. But, with living each day, comes beauty and serenity that we must all embrace.

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

“When one window closes, another door opens.”

This quote has been so valuable in my life as I have experienced numerous failures and disappointments only to be graced with even better opportunities soon thereafter. For anyone, failure never feels good. However, to know that with failure may come even larger success provides me with gratitude, optimism, hope, and ironically now an indifference to failure. I hope this quote can help others who read this know that failure is not an end, but actually a beginning to something amazing!

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

I am working on numerous projects at this time. One example is a series of short poems on patients with traumatic brain injuries. I have treated thousands of patients with traumatic brain injury and each patient’s outcomes are so unique and different. In my other books, I have tried to convey the stories of my patients as honestly and respectfully as possible in order to showcase the strength, courage, perseverance, determination and optimism that my patients have. I have been so proud and honored to have played a role in helping my patients recover and I want people in the world to understand the awesome inner strength they possess, so their stories are not forgotten. Thus, I want to continue with another text on traumatic brain injury, to once again convey how my patients have battled serious brain injury, with hopes of encouraging patient’s and family members with similar injuries to persevere and battle through their most difficult moments in life.

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?

I am a believer in developing a routine. For example, to be the best at a particular activity, one must do that activity often, with each additional time performing that task becoming an avenue to finely sharpen one’s skills. Thus, creating good habits early on allows one to NOT stress or worry, which often times can take over one’s ability to do anything, even if they have such great talent. Practicing over and over allows one to not THINK so much (can slow or stop you) but rather to DO that activity that you have done successfully so many times. This is classically seen in medicine and surgery. Having done thousands of surgeries on the brain and spine, I have come to a routine on how to approach certain cases with knowledge of where the pitfalls may be, with goals of avoiding complications.

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

As noted above, being a neurosurgeon, routine is very important in establishing good patient outcomes. Thus, surgical routine in terms of surgical maneuvering in the operating room is critical for me in maintain excelling patient outcomes. Also, appropriate maintenance of health through regular exercise and sleep (often 6–8 hours a night) is critical to ensure a body and mind that is capable of creating success.

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

Best way to develop good habits are to learn from the mistakes of others, and harness only the good habits that others have, and make them part of a daily routine. I have found this to be the best way to develop and maintain good habits.

A method of stopping bad habits is to literally avoid it altogether. It is often very difficult to avoid a bad habit partially, and thus my recommendation would be to entirely eliminate that bad habit to ensure that it does not infect you any further.

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.

Regular exercise. It is imperative to exercise at least three times per week to ensure appropriate cardiovascular and mental stability and health. Surgical cases are often long and physically demanding with placement of screws and rods in the spine, and thus physical endurance and health is critical to wellness and success.

Regular uninterrupted sleep. At least 6–8 hours of sleep every night (often sleeping early) is critical to maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit, and to allow your body a fighting chance to function at its highest level beginning immediately when you wake up.

Being positive. Mental optimism is critical in success. Thinking positive at all times, even with failure can mean the difference between life and death. We all fail and we all experience very difficult life events. However, instead of suicide and drug/alcohol abuse, a positive approach of being thankful for the failure and thinking often of all the positive aspects of one’s life, will dramatically reverse any failure and automatically make you a success! There are numerous examples daily of failures that challenge our psyche and it is of the utmost importance to not allow yourself to fail with the failures, but to stay strong and focus on positives.

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

Regular exercise, regular uninterrupted sleep and practicing the secret of being positive and thankful at all times. Make sure to always give and help those around you, who are in their greatest time of need.

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 have felt this Flow numerous times in my life, and it Is very real. I have experienced this Flow, for example, when performing surgery on a patient’s brain or spine, as the maneuvers taken seem to flow quite smoothly without complication. In my experience, the more routine something becomes, or the more times you perform that task, the possibility of experiencing that Flow state increases. Thus, after performing numerous brain and spinal operations, each case feels so meaningful as I am able to help out patients while doing very complex procedures. Additionally, I have felt this Flow state when doing uniquely rare and complicated cases, where the surgery was completed without undue complications. That feeling stems from the knowledge that the surgical case was quite rare and difficult, along with the meticulous focus placed intraoperatively during the surgery, with the surgery being completed without complications.

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.

I feel that one of the biggest problems in the world is hunger. Hunger causes nutritional deficiencies in both adults and children, that leads to numerous health consequences unnecessarily. There should be strict mandates on making sure that each and every person received appropriate nutrition and vitamin intake. I believe that the costs of making this happen would be much, much lower than the economic costs to society with medical care treatments, etc. In turn, such people would be healthy enough to go to school and be productive members of society, rather than sick hospital bound patients. Thus, governments throughout the world must work together to ensure appropriate nutrition for every person, either through food stipends monthly or through direct delivery of food services.

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 say that meeting Elon Musk would be fascinating. I have followed his story over the years and I admire his humility, compassion, his creative nature (what fascinating ideas he has), and his ability and strength to take risks with his dedication in battling failure. These qualities about him fascinate me and I would love to sit and listen to his story and learn how he was able to succeed despite the failures.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please visit my Neurosurgery site at http://www.paulkaloostian.com

Please visit my Dr Paul Author site at www.drpaulwriting.com

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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