Apply the 7 Ways How Engineers Think to Win in Life

Applying how engineers think to your daily life can be transformative. You’ll find more success and have less stress.

Now I know, many non-engineers may already think like engineers. And that’s great. But hopefully, there’s something everyone can learn from this article.

To point out, what engineers do varies a lot between the many types of engineering. But overall, the most successful engineers all think alike. In this article, I’ll cherry-pick and discuss the best thinking patterns of great engineers.

1) Strong focus on solutions

focusing to win and find solutions

After reviewing a problem, an engineer quickly switches over to problem-solving mode. They don’t dwell on the complexity of the problem, causing themselves frustrations. Because they know as you chip away at problems, solutions become clearer.

For example, we never would’ve landed on the moon with a defeatist mindset. But through baby steps, NASA kickstarted the path to safely landing humans on the Moon. In fact, NASA’s Apollo missions are amazing mindset lessons on how to think.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

Problem: living paycheck to paycheck.

Normal thinking: you think your life sucks and 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 by doing the following:

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

2) Constant pursuit of improvements

In all types of engineering, engineers try to endlessly improve products and processes. Even if the product or process already works great. Just look how many times phones have evolved through the past decade alone.

The point is, an engineer’s mind is always racing without becoming complacent.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

Problem: you’re depressed after fulfilling the American dream of a family with a white picket fence.

Normal thinking: you can’t find purpose in your life and you’re filled with regrets. You begin to hate your life and your thoughts destroy your family.

Thinking like an engineer: you assess your life. Then, you write the following list of what you can change and improve to feel more fulfilled:

  • Relationships
  • Fitness
  • Home improvement projects
  • Quitting your day job and starting a business
  • Spending more time with your kids and spouse

Your list immediately gives you goals to strive towards. In return, your family life improves.

3) Deep curiosity for the world

Everyday an engineer gets stuck in traffic for over an hour at the same highway location. Most people would become extremely frustrated. The engineer though, thinks over the cause of the traffic jam.

The analysis for data gathering includes asking the following questions:

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

This curious way of thinking turns every matter into a puzzle. You then either solve the puzzle or gain an appreciation for the problem.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

Problem: your air travel becomes delayed.

Normal thinking: you become angry because of your ruined travel plans.

Thinking like an engineer: you look deeply into the reason for your delayed flight. You think over all the following challenges, with timing flights at airports:

  • Coordinating countless planes together on a small patch of land and sky
  • Coordinating with outside national and international airports
  • Working around weather conditions
  • Plane maintenance issues
  • Managing passengers

This level of complexity calms your mind, and you appreciate the time we live in. You can fly to any corner of the globe in less than a day. It’s incredible when you realize not so long ago it took months to travel by ship crossing dangerous seas.

4) Reliance on rational thinking in decision making

The path on how to become a great engineer starts with rational thinking. In your pursuit, you quickly realize the laws of physics have no care for your emotions. A design simply will or won’t work, regardless if you’re filled with joy or sadness.

This in return makes rational thinking a deep-rooted habit for engineers. So like a broken record, engineers think rationally with their emotions switched off. This helps avoid poor decision-making, which can lead to catastrophes.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

Problem: you have poor spending habits.

Normal thinking: you believe life dealt you a bad hand and you can’t save.

Thinking like an engineer: you think about your lack of financial awareness. You analyze your spending habits and research how to be financially savvy. You start by budgeting and not carelessly spending money.

5) A healthy dose of paranoia 

Engineers know their work can cause millions of dollars in damages and hurt people. A bad decision can also land them in the center of a blazing fire pit of legal problems. It goes without saying, engineers need to abide by the engineering code of ethics.

Naturally then, engineers work with a healthy level of paranoia. This includes always double and then triple-checking their work. Even more, asking others for feedback over their work. The more filters used to catch mistakes, the better they can sleep at night.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

Problem: texting while driving.

Normal thinking: you think a quick text while driving won’t lead to an accident. You’ve done it many times without issue.

Thinking like an engineer: you’re aware of driving and texting accident stats. You realize the following driving variables are out of your control:

  • Tired drivers
  • Drunk drivers
  • Vehicle mechanical failures
  • Weather conditions
  • Loose objects on the road
  • An infuriating text leading you to drive poorly

You view your safety as a function of these variables. And the more of these variables you eliminate, the less likely you’ll get into an accident.

6) Decision making with factual data

data driven to get solutions

Every sound, visual, and observational point is a data point to engineers. Because engineers know the more inputs they gather, the better decisions they can make. For example, with underground high voltage cable design, a bad design can be costly. So, power engineers gather the following information:

  • Soil resistivity at the installed cable depth
  • Soil temperature at the installed cable depth
  • Length of the cable run
  • Cable voltage
  • Load rating

In engineering, you need to make certain assumptions. But, the more factual data you have, the better you can design.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

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

Normal thinking: you become angry because the company duped you. The ad said the product could do X, but it cannot. Even more, you never thought an ad appearing on a popular TV channel would deceive you.

Thinking like an engineer: you collect as much data as you can, prior to your purchase. Your data collection includes the following:

  • Reading customer experiences on forums
  • Watching YouTube reviews
  • Researching the product’s individual components
  • Directly contacting past buyers
  • Contacting the manufacturer and asking your questions

In short, you do your best to make the most informed purchase possible. Because you know you can’t rely on company marketing alone.

7) The focus on 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. But ask an engineer, and you’ll get way more detail than you ever wanted to know. The engineer’s step-by-step directions are 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 on top of the sandwich fillings
  7. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the sandwich fillings
  8. Place the empty bread on top of the ready-made sandwich filling

how engineers make sandwiches step by step

Now, I may have sensationalized this sandwich example, but you get my point. Engineers always break things down into many small steps. Because frankly, this makes design work so much easier and manageable.

How to apply how engineers think to your daily life

Problem: cramming for your final exam the night before.

Normal thinking: 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: to master a subject, you know you need to learn the basics first. You study your textbook from day one of class and complete all your assigned homework on time. And every subject matter you don’t understand, you get clarification over.

Applying how engineers think to your daily life

There you have it. The ways of thinking, which sent humans to the Moon, are now at your disposal.

If you can pick up just a few of these thinking methods, you’ll make transformative changes in your life.

Do you think how engineers think differs much from how you think today? Which of the traits I discussed do you think is the most important?

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