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The Scientific Philosopher: Sanj Katyal, MD

Updated: Feb 6

Dr. Katyal holds a Bachelor of Science with University Honors in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and a Medical Degree from New York University School of Medicine. He is the Founder of Positive Psychology Program for Physicians and President of Optimal Life Imaging Group, PC.


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Dr. Katyal also holds certifications in Positive Psychology and Positive Psychology Coaching from Whole Being Institute. He has published and lectured extensively on well-being and the Science of Happiness to audiences ranging from college students to physicians. Currently an Adjunct Professor at La Roche University, Dr. Katyal teaches the class “How to Flourish: Lessons from Positive Psychology”.


His research interests include developing a new model of optimal wellness incorporating principles from psychology, organizational leadership, health neuroscience and medicine. He is currently investigating the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions on physician well-being and is a co-founder of the course Thrive Rx: A Practical Guide to Flourishing for Physicians by Practicing Physicians.


Sanj is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller Positive Philosophy: Ancient and Modern Wisdom to Create a Flourishing Life.


Sanj lives with his family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His hobbies include kayaking, writing, and traveling.


Dr. Katyal’s Prescription for Success:


(Editor’s Note: Dr. Katyal took this opportunity to pen a letter to his younger self as his Prescription for Success. We include that letter here)


You have a life of achievement ahead of you. You are highly motivated and hardworking you will find much success out in the world. Right now you feel incomplete you’re searching for that next level in life to be able to finally relax and be happy. You want to advance in your career, you want to make more money, you want to start a family, you want to have some fun, all the important aspects of life.


Here’s a realization that it took me 50 years to understand: what you’re looking for will not be found in your bank account, your job title, or your accolades. You are looking for lasting satisfaction in a place that can never provide lasting satisfaction. Let me explain.

Everything that you do will be an attempt to feel better because most of the time you were filled with varying degrees of discontent. There’s always something that seems a little off, one final piece out there that is forever missing. Relax, is not just you this the default state of most people.


The reason you’re trapped in this state of what I called visceral discontent is because you’re trying to find fulfillment through your mind which by its very nature cannot be fulfilled. You see at the most basic level the brainstem and limbic system our concern with autonomic function and hostile environments. The mind adapted to constantly search for threats and opportunities in the wild. Watch how a dog behaves, constantly on the lookout for drop food or opportunities and strangers, threats. But as we evolved as a society the mine drew the prefrontal cortex to be able to effectively deal with these societal interactions. The mind is created this I Persona or identity that you see when you look in the mirror. We call this ego – not in the sense of bravado – but as this manufactured self. This ego is still the mind and only concerned with survival. This ego still constantly searches for threats and opportunities. It can never fully rest because resting with threatened it’s very survival.

The mind or ego will never be saturated no matter what you achieve out there in the world and this is why we take for granted stimuli in our lives that are constant, which is hedonic adaptation as we become enamored and focused on new stimuli this hedonic treadmill keeps us locked firmly in the future, chasing the next level.


Remember the thrill of getting into medical school which is quickly replaced by the stress of matching into good residency. Or the excitement of making partner’s quickly replaced by dreams of retirement. The mind is clever. It keeps us toiling away looking forward to the fruits of our labor but in the end of fruit is not as sweet or as lasting as we thought it would be.


And this is the truth: The mind does not care about our peace, happiness, or contentment. It only can cares about survival. It cares about building up your ego, making your manufactured self strong, and always looking to the future to make sure it’s still around.

But deep inside, our core being, our unique potential remains unexpressed and held hostage by this protective shell of our mind, and the tension between our core beings unfulfilled potential, and our minds demand for survival is why we often feel irritable, anxious, depressed, and discontent. We look for a relief from this pain no matter how brief. And we Chase various forms of pleasure – money, titles, alcohol, distractions, all in an attempt to feel better. This insight allows us to finally understand the futility of this chase. All chases only lead to more chases. Nothing in the world lasts and all pleasures fade eventually either the unfortunate event is replaced by an unfortunate one, or we adapt to it and eventually take it for granted. With inner exploration and understanding you can stop searching for satisfaction out in the world. You can move beyond the emotional rollercoaster of stress and anxiety to access a deeper level of flourishing through the realization and fulfillment of your unique potential.


So search inward and discover your true core being. Understand the patterns and inclinations of your mind. Most of the self-help movement is concerned with downstream techniques to modify behavior. Go upstream to the source. Watch your thoughts and emotions as they cause desires within you. Understand them, and most importantly know that you are separate from them. You are not your mind, you’re a divine core being with unique potential ready to be fulfilled. This is your only true search in life, and those are my prescriptions for success.


Connect with Dr. Kaytal


Notable quotes from Dr. Kaytal’s interview:

Our health, our impactful jobs, our patients, our families, our kids, – all of these things are are just taken for granted.
I want to keep good people in medicine but I want to give them the tools to really be able to practice at a high level.
I took the goals of philosophy with the more evidence-based research findings of psychology and combined them into a framework for optimal living.
We will eventually take for granted everything in our life that’s constant.
The absence of burnout does not equal wellness.
Systemic factors are huge and they’re not going to go away by mindfulness classes and resilience modules given to physicians.


Access the Show Transcript Here


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