Dr Khaled Ghattas has become something of an internet sensation. The Lebanon-based doctor turned poet, author, thought leader and inspirational speaker has sparked international conversations thanks to his thought-provoking social media posts, poems and books that look deep into some of life’s most complicated questions.
Dr Khaled Ghattass
Ghattas, who has a PhD in cellular biology from the American University of Beirut, runs his Instagram and YouTube channels, where he presents his ideas on identity and the meaning of life, highlighting them with poetry excerpts, scenes from movies and scientific facts. His philosophical approach encourages conversations and thoughts that are often outside of the box, offering a new approach to life. Ghattas’ open approach to life has seen him harbour a following of one million users on Instagram. Here we dive deeper into Ghattass’ thoughts and get an exclusive insight into how we can reset and adjust our mindset and find out true purpose in life.
Tell us about you and your journey – how did you find your path to what you’re doing today and how did you discover that you have this talent?
I think people overestimate what talent is. A talent starts with curiosity and then an opportunity comes to follow through with this curiosity, and then you need consistency. I’m thinking of writing a book around this specifically because I think it’s a good deconstruction of what talent is.
I was always curious to get to know more about people, how they think and how they see life. One thing that boggles my mind is how there are things that don’t make sense to people, yet they accept it. So, this is how my journey started; with curiosity to know more about people. Curiosity can be triggered by just one word or comment or something that opens your eyes at an early age, then you start following these triggers until you get the opportunity to explore it further. I had the opportunity to acquire knowledge in academia and in life and I see that as a blessing. I didn’t have to get too immersed in my career too early, I didn’t get married and have children when I was very young, so I had the opportunity to actually think! And then I was consistent in this. I have been doing this now amongst my friends for the last 25 years and in public for the last seven or eight years and it has become a community.
A new year is often a moment to refresh and reset – how would you advise people to start training themselves to set the right mindset moving forward?
Often people decide on their mindset and follow their temporary goals, and this is not sustainable at all. Mindset must start with a purpose. When you have a long-term purpose that’s when your goals become sustainable. Your purpose should be your starting point with any change of behaviour or habit, so first uncover that. This could be an individual purpose, a purpose for a community, for a company, for health. Usually, the purpose isn’t related to the individual him or herself, it’s more about what he is going to do to move forward. Once your purpose is clear, you can set your mindset accordingly. Mindset starts with prioritisation and asking yourself how to approach certain habits or behaviours. This becomes easy after you have identified your purpose.
Sometimes pressure can be imposed on us by society to change…
Yes exactly, and it is very easy to drift away from your purpose, it’s a natural tendency. When you really know where you’re going, this is when you can limit drifting. This reduces the impact of social or peer pressure or being influenced by trends. I think consistency is derived from discovering and criticising and then re-discovering what you want.
There is a book called “Top Five Regrets of The Dying” by Bronnie Ware. She was a nurse who cared for those who were sent to die peacefully in their homes. By chance, she started asking some of her patients what they regretted the most, and the answers were very interesting. So, she classified them into the top five regrets and wrote a book about them. The top regret is “I wish I lived a life that is true to myself, not to what others expected from me.” This gives us a great insight into what really matters. It’s a very interesting read. There is a common question many people ask: ‘how do I resist what society wants me to do?’. I don’t understand this question! If you know what you want to do, there should be no resistance, you should just focus on what you think is in harmony with who you are and what you want to achieve, even if what you want to achieve has a social context, it has to be true to who you are, knowing that who you are changes with time. Once you have built an internal and external awareness of who you are, you live that life. This is what creates a better life for you and all those who are around you.
It is the hardest thing to acquire the attention of people, let alone them believing your analysis and advice – how did you manage to recruit this loyal base?
I have loyalty to my beliefs and values and the message I want to spread, I never betrayed this in the way I live, speak, or think and I am consistent in my positioning. This seemed to resonate well with my supporters. Secondly, I think I dared to be the voice of the silent majority. There are many who know and feel that there is something not right and I just happened to vocalise this in a smooth way, where it is accepted, but also triggers a question. I don’t advise, I push a question into people’s minds. There is a quote from Socrates that says, “Wisdom begins in wonder,” it’s actually written on the ceiling of The Louvre Abu Dhabi, and this is what I do. Even in my book, the last and most interesting character’s name was “Sou2al” which means “question” in Arabic. “Sou2al” is a character that questions everything, and I think this is how we change.
This is used in coaching, but I use it in a very different way because I ask the questions that I want the answers for. I don’t ask the questions for people to ask themselves, I really want to know the answers. I try to deliver the most appropriate answer that I see at that moment in time, based on my experience. It could change in time and that’s the most important part of a mindset – that you are honest with your answers. This is how you get the right mindset. It starts with humility. You must be humble to accept changing your mind, learning from life, and introducing new values. Humbleness is one of the earliest things you need to acquire to adopt a better mindset and I consider these things in the way I think.
We are at a time where raising these kinds of questions is no longer a taboo – how do you think your conversations are supporting the society around you?
I tackle concepts that from my perspective if handled well enough, the issue of mental health will be less impacted. I try to focus on fast and wide-spreading concepts that to me are not healthy. When it comes to taboo and if it’s OK to speak about these topics, I think people have started to realise the risk of how they are living, and that’s where they really started listening, whether it’s to me or to someone else. But bear in mind that there are a lot of people speaking about mental health issues and I don’t think this is the part that relates, I think people want to be part of something that’s fixing what is wrong, not talking about what’s wrong. And fixing what’s wrong, if it’s from the source, it’s very different. I don’t want to make it too philosophical, but what I try to tackle are the underlying concepts which to me are the basis of what we are experiencing now.
What are your key focuses for 2023 and what would you like to achieve in the coming year?
I think I’m just starting! I need to spread my messages further in every place I can. I want to focus on linking values to actual materialistic benefits because I think these two have been drastically detached, and I want to link them directly. I want to link values, to material deliverables and enjoyable benefits. These should not be so far away from each other in people’s minds. I want to start with corporate companies, academic institutions, and family organisations and I want to closely link the idea of why concepts such as trust, belonging, empathy and humility are good for us. These are not things that you should, but things you MUST have to have a proper life, whether we are talking about individuals, societies, a growing nation, company etc. Whoever you are. This is my priority. This is something that I want to bring to corporate cultures, and I want to find more research that supports these findings as this is something we don’t yet have, and leverage this to elevate the conversation to a more academic or scientific level that we can all benefit from.
There are certain situations, whether problems, relations, or questions, that don’t have an answer or a closure and sometimes as humans, we want to have those answers – in one of your episodes, which is among my favourites, you spoke about this topic – tell us more about this and how in your opinion should we deal with such situations?
The human mind is a reductionist, which means that we oversimplify what life is – we want to have one infinite answer for things that can never have that, some answers don’t satisfy our thirst and that’s where the contradiction comes and it’s painful. When you go through a breakup, for example, there is no way you will find one answer for why the relationship ended. We must learn to accept that sometimes we are helpless in understanding certain things on life. We must acknowledge that some situations cannot be answered, and we need to accept that openly and accept the shortcomings that come with this. And when you do that, you will find comfort. It is not that we are lying to ourselves, we are lying to ourselves if we think otherwise. Life is too complicated with its values, its time, and its opportunities. It’s too wide for our minds to comprehend certain elements of life or incidents or factors that might hurt us and so on. It boggles my mind because everyone knows what I’m saying, they just don’t know how to put it in the right way. We must be comfortable with uncertainty, that doesn’t only mean uncertainty in doing business, it’s uncertainty in life in general. We tend to reduce the complexity of life so we can perceive it, but this makes it painful because this is not what life is and we have to accept our helplessness facing life and sometimes understanding it. And finally, we must be comfortable with uncertainty. Sometimes reading too much into one question can make you become stuck at a certain place and that’s always not the point. Yesterday I was asked when I get an idea that I want to pursue something and then I question the source of this idea – but my answer was; what difference does it make? If the idea is there, just pursue it. So, I have a balance of what the past has put into our lives, but also how we use this experience from now on. I’m not saying people can change their lives with one decision, but you need to consider everything that you’ve passed through and what you want to make from it in a gradual way that will push you into your correct purpose.
How do you decide on the topics you want to talk about?
Every day I ask myself two questions: what do people want to know? And what should people know and listen to? They may tell me they don’t agree with certain things or like them.
Sometimes I can be a bit rough in my talks and I’ll receive feedback that it’s too deep or heavy, but I tell them ‘I’m sorry but I don’t care, I’m not here to please you, I’m here to tell you what you should know, and often what you should know, is heavy’. So, this is how I decide. Of course, some of my videos are lighter than others but some really tackle the concept directly. I focus on what goes on around me, but not in a self-centred way. Recently I had lunch with some executives, and when we finished lunch, he told me: ‘this is the most uncomfortable, comforting discussion I’ve had in years’. People come to me asking for me to motivate them, but what I do is make them think and question what they are doing and that will bring them more than just motivation. I think true motivation comes from truth. I have attended talks by some of the top motivational speakers in the world, and I don’t know if others feel the same, but the vibe goes before I even reach my car in the parking lot! Truth is what really moves us, and we need to help people uncover that.
What is a quote or motto that you live by?
It’s written on my profile which translates to “bringing proper aware thoughts into us as a community as a family as a corporate.” One of the things that I do on my Instagram platform “Al_Warsheh” is a trigger for people in any community to elevate their discussion and open a meaningful subject. All the talks that I deliver are under the topic “let’s start a new major discussion” and what I love is that now people come to us, and they say that their night discussions and dialogues were about that certain video they saw, and this is amazing for me. People tell me that they forget their phones when they are discussing these topics, and that’s exactly what I want. The second part is to bring life to our lives and to live a meaningful life where we can feel music, religion, science etc. and the third part is to bring some humanity into our lives. “The Human is in his humanity” and this is core. And then you build on these three, to change the world.
What are three books that you would recommend that have had a big impact on your life?
I have read a lot of self-help books, and nothing has helped me! I’m more into reading biographies of people who drove positive change in our lives. I like to read stories that bring insights to my mind. One of the most interesting is by a writer called Tawfic Al Hakim, I’m inspired by the way he thinks and writes, and my own book is highly influenced by his style of writing. There are many others that I like such as Najib Mahfouz, Taha Hussein, and Mikhail Neaime, all great names that had a great impact.
I love poetry and I love something that allows me to expand on who I am. There is an Arabic book called “Forty & Fifty & Sixty”, written by a man in his fifties, I feel that I acquire 50 years just reading his story. So, I would rather advise people to read something that’s more enriching. We read so many statistics and I think we miss out on the reality.
There was a quote that I got from Harvard Business School that was an opening of a course. They said that ‘we need to move from ‘image management to essence management’. This struck me big time – we need to do that!
What do you say no to?
Anything that is not in harmony with who I am and what I want to achieve. Saying no is one of the hardest things to do because people drift because of temptation, not because of suffering. And I’m more cautious about saying no to temptations.