Apply the 7 Ways How Engineers Think to Win in Life

I’m going to teach you how to apply how engineers think in your daily life. This way you can increase your success, no matter your background.

And I know, many non-engineers already may think like great engineers. That’s great!

But hopefully, there’s something you can learn from my list.

That said, what engineers do varies a lot between the many types of engineering.

Thus, I can’t generalize every engineer. But, I can say most successful engineers think a certain way.

So, I’m going to cherry-pick and dissect the best thinking patterns of great engineers. You can then use these golden nuggets of advice to level yourself up.

These are the same golden nuggets that led to world-changing discoveries. For example, metallic tubes packed with people inside flying over oceans.

1) A strong focus on the solutions to problems

focusing to win and find solutions

After reviewing a problem, great engineers quickly switch to finding a solution. They don’t dwell over the complexity of a problem to cause themselves frustration.

In other words, the problem becomes a stepping-stone to a challenge. The challenge of figuring out a solution to fix a problem.

I never view problems as dead ends.

I know solutions exist, or at the very least I can make a problem less complex. This is the foundation of all science. Chip away at problems slowly over time, to eventually find a solution.

For example, we never would have landed on the moon with a defeatist mindset. Every success is a string of solved problems.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: living paycheck to paycheck.

Thinking regularly: you think your life sucks as you don’t have two pennies to rub together. You think your life will never improve.

Thinking like an engineer: you understand you have no money, but you don’t dwell over it. Instead, you think about how to improve your situation with plans of action.

For example, you think about:

  • Budgeting
  • Getting a second job
  • Returning to school for a better career
  • Starting a business

Your focus remains on improving your situation in any way possible.

2) Desire to constantly improve things around you

In all types of engineering, engineers think of how to improve products and processes. Even with things that seem to already work great.

I’m glad we didn’t stop with the flip phone. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have smartphones today.

For this reason, a great engineer’s mind is always racing. Even small design improvements bring change.

In fact, the summation of small improvements creates our favorite technologies.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: you’re depressed after reaching the American dream. A family life consisting of a white picket fence around a private yard still leaves you empty inside.

Thinking regularly: you can’t find purpose in your life. You’re bored and have regrets over things you wish you had done. So, you begin to hate your life and it negatively affects your family.

Thinking like an engineer: you assess your life. Then, you write a list of things you can improve.

Your list includes:

  • Relationships
  • Fitness
  • Home improvement projects
  • Starting a business
  • Spending more time with your kids and spouse

Your list immediately gives you something extra to strive for in your life. In return, your family life improves too.

3) A deep curiosity that never quiets

An engineer gets stuck in traffic for over an hour on the same highway location every day. Most people would become very frustrated, and I would too.

But, I’d also try to answer why this traffic jam happens.

The ‘why’ includes analyzing the situation. Then gathering enough data to answer the question.

In this example, I’d ask the following questions over the source of the traffic jam:

  • Are many cars suddenly changing lanes?
  • Are several lanes merging in this area all at once?
  • Is there a crowded off-ramp ahead?

This way of thinking turns everything into a puzzle. In return, you calm your mind as you try to better understand problems. You appreciate how simple things come from many complexities.

Without a doubt, this leads us back to the ability to problem-solve.

In other words, curiosity will take you down a rabbit hole. Then almost always you’ll have problems begging for solutions.

As an example, Elon Musk became tired of Los Angeles traffic wasting his limited time. Thus, he started The Boring Company to zip from point A to point B faster.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: your air flight becomes delayed.

Thinking regularly: you become angry. Your mind fills with negative thoughts because all your plans are now ruined.

Thinking like an engineer: you look deeply into the reason for your delayed flight. You think of all the difficulties around plane timing in airports:

  • Coordinating countless planes together on a small patch of land and sky
  • Coordinating with other national and international airports
  • Working around weather conditions
  • Plane maintenance issues
  • Hoping no passengers cause problems

This level of complexity calms your mind. You appreciate this amazing time you live in.

You can fly to any corner of the globe in less than a day. Amazing, when you realize not so long ago it took months to travel by ship crossing dangerous seas.

4) Using rational thinking in your decision making

The path in how to become a great engineer starts with rational thinking. The laws of physics have no care for your emotions.

Something either computes or it doesn’t. Simple!

For this reason, many engineers are quirky. When you do enough engineering, rational thinking becomes a habit.

Like a broken record, you always think rationally with your emotions switched off. In fact, you may even fear your emotions.

What I mean is, you understand how your emotions can lead to design failures. Someone can lose millions of dollars and people can even die.

I for one want the design of all the planes I fly in, cars I drive, and buildings I walk in, to be devoid of emotions. When it comes to life and death, logic rules.

But yes, in the real world, we do need a balance with emotions. Otherwise, we’d all become no different than machines.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: you have bad money spending habits.

Thinking regularly: you always think about how life dealt you a bad hand of cards. Also, how your life will never improve as you can’t save a penny.

Thinking like an engineer: you think about your lack of financial awareness. As a result, you analyze your spending habits and how you’re only a consumer.

Thus, you stop purchasing useless things and begin budgeting. You realize to save money, you need to either cut spending, make more money, or do both.

5) Adding a dose of paranoia to your life

Engineers realize their work can cause millions of dollars in damage and hurt people. As a result, engineers work with a healthy level of paranoia.

Great engineers always think about the safety of their design work. They follow proper design practices, not leaving anything to chance.

I always double and then triple-check my work. I even show others my design work for feedback.

Also, I check my work against textbooks. This includes checking over certain assumptions I make for calculations.

That said, all humans make mistakes. No exceptions!

Since I’m human, I need to reduce the statistical chance of making a mistake.

Thus, I incorporate many filters in my design work to help catch mistakes. Because in engineering, a mistake won’t lead to a bad batch of overly salted cookies.

Rather, mistakes will put you in the middle of a blazing fire pit. Not something any engineer ever wants to experience.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: texting while driving.

Thinking regularly: you think a quick text while driving won’t lead to an accident. You think because you’ve safely done it so many times, you can continue doing it.

Thinking like an engineer: you look over accident stats. Your research shows the number of people who crash because of texting.

You realize the following driving variables are out of your control:

  • Tired drivers
  • Drunk drivers
  • Failures in your car’s mechanics
  • Weather conditions
  • Random objects falling onto the road
  • A bad text causing you anger leading to bad driving

Now, you view driving safety as a function of these variables. So, you eliminate variables in your control to reduce your chance of an accident.

Otherwise, you’ll become an accident stat yourself.

6) Making decisions based on data

data driven to get solutions

Great engineers view everything around them as data points. Everything you see, hear, and touch becomes inputs to your mind.

You realize the more inputs you gather, the better decisions you can make. Thus, you want more and more inputs.

For example, let’s think of an underground high voltage cable design. When I do these designs, I want as many data points as I can gather.

I know once we install the high voltage cables, the cost to remove or upsize them is huge. So, I need to get the design right the first time.

Here are the data points I collect:

  • Soil resistivity at the installed cable depth
  • Soil temperature at the installed cable depth
  • Length of the cable run
  • The voltage of the cables
  • Load rating the cables will serve
  • Information on the connected load
  • Ambient temperature in the construction area in the hot season

This data allows me to properly analyze cable ampacities.

In engineering, you’ll need to make certain assumptions. But, the more data you have, the more accurate your designs become.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: you buy an expensive appliance because of how great it looked in an ad. You soon realize it doesn’t work as great as you expected.

Thinking regularly: you become angry because the company duped you. The ad said the product could do X, Y, and Z perfectly, and now you see it clearly can’t.

You never thought an ad could deceive you. How could it? You saw the ad on TV on a popular channel.

Thinking like an engineer: you collect as much data on the appliance as you can before you buy it. Your data collection includes the following:

  • Reading customer experiences on forums
  • Reading review sites you find in Google and Youtube searches
  • Researching the individual product components and materials
  • Directly contacting past buyers
  • Contacting the manufacturer and asking your questions

In short, you do your best to make the most informed purchase. You realize the stupidity of buying based on company marketing alone.

Thus, you need more than one data point to make informed decisions.

7) Focusing on the small steps in a process

Ask a regular person how to make a sandwich. They’ll tell you to get two pieces of bread and stick sandwich food inside.

Now, if you ask an engineer, you’ll get way more detail than you ever wanted to hear. You’d hear the following:

  1. Take two pieces of bread
  2. Place the pieces of bread on a plate
  3. Spread mayo over one side of each piece of bread with a knife
  4. Place the cut meat on one of the pieces of bread
  5. Cut tomato, lettuce, and pickle slices, and place them on top of the meat
  6. Squeeze mustard from the bottle onto the top of everything in the sandwich
  7. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the sandwich ingredients
  8. Place the empty bread on top of the ingredient filled bread piece

how engineers make sandwiches step by step

Now, I may have exaggerated a little with this sandwich example, but you get my point.

Great engineers always break things down into many small steps. This is a habit picked up from designing a lot.

You go from one small design step to the next until you complete the design.

For example, think of your favorite apps on your smartphone. You only see a polished working app.

You don’t see the tens of thousands of lines of code. With each line of code as important as the last.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: cramming for your final exam the night before.

Thinking regularly: you think you can learn a quarter’s worth of material in one night. You study all day and night with coffee fueling your studying.

Thinking like an engineer: you realize to master a subject you need to learn all the basic material first. Thus, you need to understand the core subject principles and concepts.

As a result, you study your textbook from day one of class and complete all the assigned homework on time. Also, you visit the TA every week for help. Even more, you self-study to become a master of the subject.

So every day, starting from day one in your class becomes a small step to earning an A-grade on your final exam.

Applying how engineers think in your daily life

There you have it. I gave you only the best ways of how great engineers think.

If you can at least pick up several of these ways of thinking, you can make a big change in your life today. As I said before, these ways of thinking created the amazing life we all love so much.

So, tweak your way of thinking, to improve your personal life.

You’ll give yourself a leg up, as you work towards living a happier and more fulfilling life.

Do you think how engineers think differs much from how you think today? Which trait that I discussed do you think is the most important to have?

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