“Performance is a funny thing.” with Dr. Pedram Shojai

Performance is a funny thing. If you don’t keep your eyes on the prize, you lose. That’s the challenge — setting goals. Good habits here come with projecting goals and working to attain them. You can’t improve what you don’t measure so my advice is set goals that push you and drive you forward- work […]

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Performance is a funny thing. If you don’t keep your eyes on the prize, you lose. That’s the challenge — setting goals. Good habits here come with projecting goals and working to attain them. You can’t improve what you don’t measure so my advice is set goals that push you and drive you forward- work hard to attain those goals and then keep moving the line forward. Always strive to improve your game.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Pedram Shojai, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Master Herbalist and acupuncturist, the New York Times bestselling author of The Urban Monk and The Art of Stopping Time and founder of He is an acclaimed Qigong Master and Taoist Abbot with a practical approach to modern living, using Eastern thinking and practices to help himself and others overcome the Westernized challenges of everyday life, and to wake up and live their lives fully. His new book, FOCUS: Bringing Time, Energy and Money into Flow, is about bringing your attention in line with your intention to get the life you want.

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?

Myfamily moved to California after the Iranian revolution. I was three years old. My folks lost everything and had to start over and they instilled a hard immigrant work ethic in us- putting their hopes and dreams in the next generation. Back then, the formula for good kids that did their homework was to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I chose doctor. I was ranked #1 in my High School and went straight to UCLA which was my first choice. Then I changed my mind…

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

I took a couple Tai Chi classes in college and fell in love with how it made me feel. This “Jedi stuff” felt amazing and was in stark contrast to the dreary dark hospital corridors I was interning in. The more I hung out in those hospital rooms, the less it seemed like “health.” In my confusion, I asked God for a clue and that’s when a book fell out of a bookshelf in front of me. I wasn’t a really mystical guy at the time but the overt “coincidence” of this event with my timely inquiry drove me to pick up the book and read it. It was about a Taoist Qi Gong master’s life. I read it that night and found a Taoist Kung Fu school that same week. Fast forward a few months, I became a Taoist monk and switched to the study of Oriental medicine.

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?

When I walked into the Taoist school, the Master walked across the floor and looked me straight in the eyes. He said he’d been expecting me. At this point, given how weird this had all been, I figured I belonged there. He became my teacher to this day and has led me on a journey inwards that has changed 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?

When I came back from sabbatical in India, I thought it would be my path to integrate East and West in a medical clinic. I adopted a Western model and got sucked into the insurance game. This proved to be folly as insurance only pays for diagnosable illnesses and, especially then, not for wellness and prevention. My entire training was in the prevention of disease and the support of Vitality. I found myself on the wrong side of the equation and knew I’d made a wrong turn. Waiting for people to get sick and then working hard to bring them back is insane. That’s our system.

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?

Figure out what you want to be doing and then find a way to get paid for it. The money will come. If you follow the formulas out there, you’ll get boxed in and your hands will be tied. Dream your dream and then build a financial model to make it thrive…not the other way around.

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 Wandering Taoist by Deng Ming Tao — that’s the book that fell from the shelf and set me on this journey. It’s a fantastic story of the life of a Taoist monk and all his adventures.

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

“Fall seven times, rise eight. Life begins now.” — The Bodhidharma

This quote is the basis of my life’s work and books. Get back on the horse. Keep going. Work hard and never give up.

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

My new book “FOCUS: Bringing Time, Energy and Money into Flow” is my latest contribution to the world. I feel it’s important to help people realize their attention is the currency of the information age and is being pulled out of their lives and into someone else’s vision of the world. If your life is not coming together the way you’d like, then it’s time to pull your focus back. Don’t waste your time and precious heart beats building someone else’s dream for them.

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?

Habit is everything. The bad ones drive us out of control and away from health and Vitality. The good ones bring us back. All of these are governed by the prefrontal cortex and our ability to suppress impulses. Building positive habits is the richest work we can do. It takes pulling our focus back and working our focus like a muscle. Getting focused on our lives gives us the chance to say no to new things that distract us so we can honor the commitments we’ve already made to ourselves and others.

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

I’ve been doing 100 Day Gongs (or daily practices) for over 20 years. I decide where I want my life to go and then I build a daily discipline to get there…one day at a time for 100 days. This is how new habits form and how we stay on track. I’ve taught this to over 10,000 people and the results are astounding. It takes about 90 days to develop a new habit so the 100 day gong is a perfect way to check off 1% a day as you go.

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

Do them. Straight up, if you want a new habit, start doing it and never stop until it’s burned in. That’s why I encourage everyone to meditate because it builds the part of our brains that helps us stay focused and stay on target.

The same applies to bad habits. Replace them with a positive new good habit and do this daily for 100 days until the new habit is burned in over the old one. It’s like gardening. You plant a seed after you’ve pulled the weeds out and you water and wait. It takes time to come to harvest but will certainly fail if you don’t water that seed regularly…in this case I sat daily.

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 is all about lifestyle- the combination of diet, exercise, sleep and mindset. Getting lifestyle right takes discipline as we’ve had many bad habits work their way through over the years. It all starts with the moment we wake up. Can we bring mindfulness to our morning routine? What does our body need to start the day? Perhaps some stretching, so cardio or some quiet time? What doesn’t it need? Sugar and empty calories come to mind.

The deal with good habits in wellness is that they stack up. Add a few here and there and keep going so you can bank the wins with better energy economics. Your wellness is the sum total of all good deeds over bad ones each day. If you eek over the line, then you’re going to feel better.


Performance is a funny thing. If you don’t keep your eyes on the prize, you lose. That’s the challenge — setting goals. Good habits here come with projecting goals and working to attain them. You can’t improve what you don’t measure so my advice is set goals that push you and drive you forward- work hard to attain those goals and then keep moving the line forward. Always strive to improve your game.


Well, focus is the currency of life mastery. It’s like a muscle that needs to be cultivated and strengthened. What’s the number one habit I recommend in attaining better focus? Meditation. It powers the part of our brain that helps us say “no” to impulses and stay on track. The prefrontal cortex gets more blood supply and neuronal activity with meditation and this is the exact thing we need to get better at focusing… which, in turn makes us better at life. It’s a chicken and egg thing that spirals upwards. The best way to hack into that spiral is daily meditation.

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

The number one practice is meditation. From there, I love Qi Gong. This helps coordinate the eyes, mind, body, and breath and corrales the attention and puts you back in the driver’s seat.

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

1- Meditate in the morning- do this before you go to the bathroom. Start your day with mindfulness before your first mindless activity.

2- Put all the important things in your life in your calendar- this’ll keep them top of mind and keep you from crowding them out.

3- Journal at night- go over how your day went and what you may have missed. Make this the end cap to a mindful day and reconcile what you said versus what you did. Get better each day at lining those two up.

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

Meditation helps drive blood and energy to the prefrontal cortex which is the part of your brain responsible for higher moral reasoning, rational thinking, and the negation of impulses. This is an effective way to strengthen the part of your brain that helps you stay on path with the new habits you’ve chosen and saying “no” to the distractions that come at you all day, every day.

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?

Flow is your birthright. Meditation and qigong help you tap into this space, and with more familiarity over time, you can access the flow state more regularly. It’s something that can be cultivated with these arts and is a state of awareness that can eventually feel like home once you’ve attained proficiency.

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.

Come home. This crisis of consciousness can’t be fixed outside of you. We are each individually drawn outside of our power looking for politicians and leaders to solve world problems. The Buddha called us “hungry ghosts.” The movement I’m to inspire is a homecoming for each individual to find their own inner peace, serenity, and power and emanate that outwards. It starts with inner awareness.

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 🙂

Steven Spielberg- why? Because the media has been amazing at inspiring people and entertaining them but now it’s time to help people find inner awareness and look inside for answers. If we can use media to help with this “retroflexion” then we can gain more traction.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

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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