Remain Humble: I am always looking to be better. Whether it’s learning how to be more efficient, learning about a new technology, or changing the way I currently practice, by remaining humble and accepting criticism, I have found that I have been able to remain at the forefront of my field. I am always willing to learn from those who know more and because of that, I am confident that I will never fall behind.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Rajivan Maniam, co-founder of Ospina Medical.
Dr. Rajivan Maniam is one of Manhattan’s leading regenerative medicine and interventional pain physicians. He completed his anesthesiology residency at Columbia University Medical Center and his interventional pain fellowship at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is double-board certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine through the American Board of Anesthesiology. Additionally, he has completed advanced certifications in regenerative medicine through the Interventional Orthobiologic Foundation as well as extensive training in functional medicine through the Institute for Functional 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 was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to the United States when I was 3. My younger sister had just been born and my father had gotten work as a wireless engineer for Bell Atlantic in rural Pennsylvania. My father was the youngest of 8 siblings and at the time was the first to leave Sri Lanka. Needless to say, my parents knew very little of the US when we moved here and had even fewer friends to rely on. Even at an early age, I remember how hard my father worked to support our family. He often worked early mornings and late weekends and because of this I never felt that we had an impoverished childhood. My sister and I grew up in a household full of love and hope that with hard work the American dream was possible. As I grew older, both of my parents continued to instill these values in me and build the foundation of the importance of education. Despite their long hours at work, both my mother and father always found time to help me with my homework, stay up late finishing projects, and drive me to all my extracurriculars. This continued throughout the majority of my education and even though I am well into my professional career, my parents still offer to stay up late with me when there is work to be done.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Much, if not all, of my success would have to be attributed to my parents. They taught me the value of hard work and importance of kindness from an early age that I still hold dear today. My father started his career working in a small rural town in PA. It was predominantly a white community with very few minorities and growing up we all faced our share of obstacles. I remember being bullied because of my name and the food my mother would pack me for lunch, but my parents were always there to comfort me that people will always fear what they do not know or understand and that it is your responsibility to educate rather than condemn. Those early lessons stuck with me throughout my education and ultimately led me to pursue a career in medicine.
I had always been a sociable child with an interest in science. I knew that I wanted a career where I would be able to work with my hands, help people, and never get bored with what I was doing. From an early age, I was always tinkering with gadgets throughout the house, opening them up trying to figure out how they worked. As I grew older, those same interests began to transition into biology and the human body. I wanted to learn more about how our bodies worked, how to heal ailments, and how I could make a difference in people’s lives. Medicine seemed to offer the combination I was looking for as well as the opportunity to grow intellectually.
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?
The road through medicine is one fraught with many ups and downs. There are numerous times when you question why you chose this arduous path and is it worth it to continue. Even as a practicing physician, I find myself asking these questions and it is important to have someone you trust and respect to help steer you straight. For me, that person has always been my sister. Although three years my junior, when it comes to easing my worries and motivating me, there is no one else I rely on more. My sister and I have always been close growing up, but as we have gotten older she has really become my confidante when making important life decisions.
Nothing has showcased this more than my decision to start a private medical practice with one of my colleagues from residency. Of course, I had several reservations about leaving my stable hospital-based job, but I had always dreamt of owning my own practice where I could truly offer the most cutting-edge therapies for my patients. As I contemplated making this life-altering decision I turned to my sister for help. As she had done on countless calls before, she helped me realize that many of my reservations were based purely on my fears of not wanting to take a risk. And as any entrepreneur knows, there is no path to success without taking some level of risk. At my current stage in life and career path, she helped me realize there was no better time than now to try my hand at this lifelong dream. I have since opened my practice with my business partner and although there have been many struggles throughout our journey, my sister has remained a steadfast source of encouragement that has helped me to persevere
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?
One of the most important pieces of advice I can provide to a young aspiring physician is to think about what type of life they want to lead while practicing medicine. This encompasses both the quality of life they wish to lead as well as what they envision their professional career to encompass. Too often, I see physicians 5, 10, 15 years into their careers who are unhappy with their jobs, however continued to stay because it was “simply too hard to leave”. Medicine encompasses such a wide variety of career opportunities, that it is important for physicians to truly seek out a career that is both intellectually fulfilling and allows for a comfortable work-life balance. If you find yourself on a path that you do not enjoy, make the necessary changes early, before you find yourself looking back on what could have been.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” –Mark Twain
This quote from Mark Twain has stuck with me ever since I was a young child. It always seemed so magical and made we want to seek out adventure. Whenever there was an opportunity to explore the unknown, this quote would rush through my mind and instinctively my answer would always be, “Yes!”. As I grew older, I had the opportunity to travel more and explore different cultures and cuisines and this really has evolved into a passion of mine. I try to take at least 2 international trips every year to places I’ve never been all in the hopes of learning something new. I’ve always felt that the worst thing I could do was look back at my life and regret not doing things purely out of fear or uncertainty. Nothing could embody this more than my most recent leap of faith as an entrepreneur. In January of this past year, along with my friend from residency, I opened a new medical practice in Midtown Manhattan. Needless to say, we were not expecting COVID-19 to change the entire global landscape, but we have persevered. It is always easier to follow the tried and true paths, but I have always found that by exploring the unknown, dreaming of greatness, and discovering new things, it makes not just the conclusion, but the journey that much more meaningful and worthwhile.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
One of my newest ventures is in the exciting world of regenerative medicine. Our practice has partnered with Regenexx, a company that specializes in using super concentrated platelet rich plasma and bone marrow derived stem cells, to help people who suffer from musculoskeletal injuries without the need for dangerous medications or unnecessary surgery. This platform allows us to use peoples very own healing cells and growth factors to help reduce pain while helping to permanently heal their damaged tissue. Regenexx is a global leader in this space and has developed meticulous algorithms to maintain the utmost patient safety, evidence, and transparency when delivering these treatments. As interventional pain physicians, we have been trained to help mask symptoms and reduce pain, however this new technology now provides the opportunity to reduce pain while actually healing damaged tissue. In doing so, we are able to provide sustained improvement in the function and quality of life of our patients using minimally invasive techniques.
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?
Simply put, good habits are fundamental to achieving success. If you look at the successful entrepreneurs of the world, one of the qualities they all share is an organized framework of habits that helped them achieve their goals. While these habits may differ from person to person, developing healthy habits early on and relying on them when times are difficult, is the key to defeating adversity and learning from your failures. As an anesthesiology resident, I relied on many of the habits I had learned growing up to get me through those difficult times. Perhaps the most important and one I still practice today, is to put away your pride and remain humble. As a medical resident, you are repeatedly thrust into high stakes life or death situations and sometimes the only thing you can do is try to remain calm, observe and learn. As a resident, you are still learning your craft and much of that education happens on the job. Humility is part of the education process and when mistakes are made it is important to not just own up to those errors, but learn from them. Now as an attending physician, I am well versed in my specialty, but medicine is vast and ever-changing and I always encourage my patients to ask questions and share their opinions. The most dangerous thing you can do is believe that you know everything and dismiss anything new. The day you stop learning is the day you become obsolete.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Steve Jobs once said, “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” The key to success is perseverance and following what you believe in despite the adversity that you will face. Developing good habits along this journey will help keep you on track and most importantly prevent you from giving up. Some of the habits that I feel that have helped me the most are as follows:
- Remain Humble: I am always looking to be better. Whether it’s learning how to be more efficient, learning about a new technology, or changing the way I currently practice, by remaining humble and accepting criticism, I have found that I have been able to remain at the forefront of my field. I am always willing to learn from those who know more and because of that, I am confident that I will never fall behind.
- Remove Fear: Fear is usually what stops us from taking risks. It is always important to weigh the pros and cons of any decision but don’t let fear prevent you from moving forward. Acknowledge what is actually making you afraid and welcome the inevitable failures that will come. Making mistakes is part of the growth process and by not letting fear dictate your decisions, you can continue to reach your goals.
- Surround Yourself with Positive People: This has been crucial to my growth as an entrepreneur. There are many people who will not believe in your plans and are quick to dismiss your ideas. Surround yourself with those who will still question you, but provide alternative solutions, not more reasons to quit.
- Stay Physically and Mentally Strong: It is important to not neglect your own well-being and mental health. I try to make it a goal of exercising in some fashion daily as well as some form of mental relaxation. Having uninterrupted time dedicated to improving your physical and mental well-being, will help ensure that you have energy and remain focused when at work.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
The easiest and perhaps the most effective way to develop good habits is through redundancy. Repeat the good habits you believe are important daily. This is the key to instilling those habits into your daily thought process. The same is true for bad habits. Try to slowly remove bad habits by replacing them with the good. Do this one at a time, until you have felt that you have replaced all of your bad habits. Then continue to perform and embody those good habits with intention until they become instinctive.
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.
Maintaining wellness is a large and complex topic, however three of the easiest and most fundamental features of maintaining a healthy lifestyle are optimizing your nutrition, exercising daily, and prioritizing sleep.
Optimal Nutrition: When trying to optimize your nutrition, two basic tenets include avoiding refined sugars and avoiding processed foods. By simply removing these two elements from your diet, you can quickly remove a large amount of deleterious chemicals from your body. When I adopted this philosophy, I quickly found that my energy levels skyrocketed. I was able to significantly reduce the amount of caffeine I consumed and I felt that I had much more energy when I awoke that persisted throughout the day.
Exercise Daily: Exercising daily has countless health benefits that all contribute to improving your wellness. The key to exercising is to make sure you do some form of exercise everyday. Build this into your daily routine and to keep you consistent add some variety. I incorporate yoga, running, weight training, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) into a weekly circuit and try to allow myself at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. I use both online videos and an app on my phone to help track my progress as well as introduce new exercises that I can try.
Prioritize Sleep: Maintaining good sleep hygiene and ensuring that you get adequate restful sleep daily is fundamental toward living a healthy lifestyle. Sleep is necessary for restoration of our bodies and disordered sleep can perpetuate worsening medical conditions and ailments. I avoid using my phone or computer while in bed, and try to be in bed at the same time every night. In this manner, I tend to fall asleep pretty quickly when I’m in bed and wake up refreshed. Living in New York City, I’ve also found myself somewhat sensitive to the sounds of the city, so I invested in double paned windows in my bedroom and “noise cancelling blackout curtains” to help limit street noise. I’ve also started using a white noise machine to drown out sounds from the outside traffic and have found this combination successful in creating a serene sleeping environment.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
There are definitely different measures as to what defines optimal performance, but for me this means functioning at my highest mental and physical capacity without fatigue. To help maximize my daily performance, three habits that I have found helpful are focusing on what is important first, developing a plan for efficiency, and allowing time for rest.
Focus On What’s Importance: Our lives are complex and full of distractions that can prevent us from accomplishing our goals. As a medical physician and business owner, balancing time between clinical patient care and running a business can be very challenging. It seems there are countless interruptions throughout the day and if I were to react to each one of those problems, the day would never move forward and work would not get done. Prioritizing and focusing on important subject matter first, has been a crucial habit that has allowed me to handle the day to day stresses of my job without feeling overburdened or falling behind.
Develop a Plan for Efficiency: When it comes to performance, one of the words that always comes to mind is efficiency. For me, running efficiently is key to performing well. Whether its running an office and optimizing workflows or playing a sport and finding the best way to win the game, developing a plan prior to starting your actionable item will help you reach your goal in the quickest and most efficient manner. I usually start my day by arriving to work 30 minutes early to settle out all pending emails and plan a strategy for the day that I then convey to the staff. In doing so, everyone is on the same page and this avoids any confusion or extra work that I need to do.
Appropriate Rest: Just as important as working hard is ensuring time to rest. Your mind needs a break from thinking about work to avoid mental fatigue. Every Sunday evening I dedicate time to myself to enjoy the things that I like to do. This involves watching a movie, reading my favorite books, or spending time with my family.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
The ability to remain focused on a task is crucial to remaining productive. By paying attention to things that are important and avoiding distractions you can increase your efficiency and create more available time throughout the day. Because focus is so important to critical thinking and reasoning, finding ways to strengthen your ability to focus should be a part of your daily routine. Here are some habits that you can easily incorporate into your life to help optimize your ability to focus.
Meditation: I like to start the day with a 10 minute meditation session. This does not have to be an elaborate production but rather helps prepare my mind for the upcoming tasks that await me. Like most people, my life is full of unforeseen stressors and practicing mindfulness everyday in the morning helps cope and improve dealing with these inevitable issues. There are many options on how to perform this meditation from mantras to guided meditation videos, but the important thing to remember is that you remain fully engaged in this exercise and that you perform it daily. By doing so, you should begin to develop a stronger sense of awareness as well as a heightened ability to focus on the tasks of the day.
Maintain Meaningful connections: Make sure to make time for those important individuals in your life. These meaningful connections are important to mental well-being and can offer a friendly escape from your busy schedule. By allowing yourself dedicated time to speak with your family and friends you will notice that you will stop worrying about the obligation of having to call someone and rather appreciate the time you spend speaking with them. This helps unburden the mind as well as allow yourself the opportunity to foster and cultivate those important relationships in your life.
Cope with Stress: Learning to cope with stress is no easy task, however cultivating healthy stress coping strategies can help minimize anxiety and maintain focus in your life. One strategy I like to use whenever work begins to pile up and meeting deadlines seems impossible is to remember all the positive accomplishments I have done to get to this point. Reframing my thought process and trying to find the opportunity in the situation, helps ease my worries and helps me refocus my attention on the tasks at hand. Remembering that I have been in difficult situations before and was able to succeed, always helps me persevere through new challenges that present themselves.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
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?
The most memorable times I have experienced a truly effortless sense of flow were when I was doing something I was truly passionate about. I find that attaining flow comes at the intersection of motivation, interest, and calm. By having one’s mind at ease and fully engrossed on the task at hand, you will find that your ability to perform that task becomes that much easier. If you are truly interested in what you are doing, this will motivate you to perform at your highest ability thus producing an amazing final result. Finding something you truly care about and cultivating that skill through practice will help bring more flow into your life.
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.
There is more good than evil in this world. My ask would be that every individual perform one act of charitable kindness to a stranger and for every kind gesture received by that individual, they perform another. The idea of perpetually helping our community and being kind to our peers is something that this world needs. People fear what they do not know. By showing kindness to one another we can cultivate a culture of acceptance and in doing so disrupt the invisible boundaries that sometimes separate us from one another.
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 🙂
One of the great minds of our time who has truly propelled technological innovation in such a diverse spectrum of industries is Elon Musk. His ability to question what is considered impossible, learn about the subject, and then implement his ideas, all the while appreciating there is a realistic possibility they may fail, is amazingly inspiring. As an entrepreneur it is easy to be frustrated by failure, but as long as I learn from those mistakes and try to fashion opportunity even in the face of possible defeat, there is always value to be gained. Looking to fearless leaders like Elon Musk who time and again chase novel solutions for difficult to solve problems motivates me to do the same.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow me on my Instagram @dr.maniam or my personal website www.drmaniam.com.
They can also follow Ospina Medical on Instagram @ospinamedical and visit us online at https://www.ospinamedical.com/.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.