Apply the 7 Best Ways How Engineers Think to Succeed in Life

Applying the golden nuggets from how engineers think to your life will give you an edge. No matter your background, you’ll benefit from an engineer’s mind.

So, we’ll hack into the mind of engineers to give you golden nuggets to use.

Now, before I dive into how engineers think, you need to realize I’m taking a broad brush over this topic. To put it another way, millions of engineers exist.

What engineers do varies a lot between the many types of engineering.

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

Also, I’m going to focus on engineers who do design work. Not engineers who no longer get their hands dirty in technical work.

As well, I’m excluding the bad thinking traits many engineers have. At the same time, I know many non-engineers already may think like great engineers.

In short, I want to cherry-pick and dissect the best thinking patterns from engineers. Then, share them with you.

This way, you can use these golden nuggets of advice. You can apply them to your daily life any way you wish.

After all, these golden nuggets led to life-changing discoveries. For example, metallic tubes with people packed inside flying over oceans. Or, 2000-pound metal boxes swerving on roads and highways all around the globe.

For this reason, I’m certain your daily life can benefit from how engineers think. Enough talk, let’s dive into the mind of great engineers.

1) Strong Focus on the Solution

focusing to win and find solutions

A great engineer will spot a problem, and then quickly transition to finding a solution. Great engineers don’t dwell and beat themselves up over problems.

Dwelling over problems alone will only lead to frustrations. For this reason, great engineers analyze problems only to find solutions.

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

Myself, I never view any problem as a dead end. I always know a solution exists, or at the very least I can improve the problem at hand.

Engineering extends beyond only technical skills. I view the unique non-technical engineering skills you learn as priceless.

At any rate, with a defeatist mindset, we would never have landed on the moon. So, view every success as a string of solved problems.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: living paycheck to paycheck.

Thinking regularly: you think about how much your life sucks and 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 of how you can improve your situation

You research your problem and think of solutions 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 problem in any way possible.

2) Desire to Constantly Improve

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

For example, look no further than all your favorite tech toys. This includes your smartphone, video games, cars, and so much more.

Every year engineers make these devices better and faster. It doesn’t even matter if they already work amazingly well.

A great engineer always wants to make things better. Finish lines don’t exist.

For this reason, a great engineer’s mind remains racing and in thinking mode. Like a submarine’s periscope that always remains on the lookout.

Without this mindset, we humans would have remained satisfied with Henry Ford’s Model T car. Instead, we now drive futuristic cars that can near drive themselves.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: achieved a life with a white picket fence and a family, and now you’ve become depressed.

Thinking regularly: you can’t find a purpose in life, as you have nothing left to do. As a result, you begin to hate life, thinking you have no more purpose left.

Thinking like an engineer: you take a look around you. You look for things that need improvement. Or something you can better yourself in.

You think of a huge endless list of things. The list includes relationships, fitness, home projects, starting a business, and so on. Also, even improving a skill like archery that you always wanted to master.

This immediately gives you a purpose in life. You now have something to work towards every day.

3) A Deep Curiosity That Never Sleeps

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

But, I would also mentally navigate the situation to understand the traffic jam. I would think deeply into the situation to find out the ‘why’.

The ‘why’ includes analyzing the situation. Then gathering data to come up with theories on why this traffic jam exists.

In this example, my thoughts would first lead me to tackle the source of the traffic. The questions I would think of include:

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

This way of thinking makes everything seem like a puzzle and in return calms your mind. As a result, you better understand the problem. You appreciate why simple things have deep complexities.

Without a doubt, this then leads us back to what we discussed over problem-solving. To illustrate, a curiosity takes you down a rabbit hole. Then almost always leaves you with many problems begging for solutions.

To illustrate this, look no further than Elon Musk. Elon became tired of Los Angeles traffic wasting his precious time. As a result, he started The Boring Company to zip from point A to point B faster in Los Angeles.

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 of your delayed flight.

In effect, your mind goes into attack mode. You think your plans have now all gone down the drain.

Thinking like an engineer: you look deeply into the reason for the delayed flight. You think of all the difficulties surrounding the timing of planes 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
  • Hoping no passengers cause problems

This level of complexity calms your mind. You better 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 savage seas.

4) Rational Thinking

The path in how to become a great engineer starts with rational thinking. Engineering doesn’t care for your emotions.

Something either computes or it doesn’t. Simple!

For this reason, many engineers speak monotone and may not seem like everyday people. When you do enough engineering, this way of thinking becomes a habit.

Like a broken record, you always think rationally with your emotions shut down. In the back of your mind, you may fear emotions.

You understand when you bring your emotions into work, things can go wrong. Someone can lose millions of dollars and injuries may happen from faulty designs.

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, 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: Bad money spending habits. Then complaining you can’t save a penny.

Thinking regularly: you always think about how life dealt you a bad hand of cards. Also, you think about how your life will never improve.

But, you never think about your lack of budgeting and financial awareness. You blame everyone but yourself.

Thinking like an engineer: you think over how money doesn’t spend itself. As a result, you analyze your spending habits.

You think logically over your spending. As a result, you stop purchasing things you’ll never use more than once.

You realize in order to save money, you need to either cut spending, make more money, or both.

5) A Dose of Paranoia in Discussions

Engineers know their work can cause millions of dollars in damage and hurt people. As a result, they build a healthy level of paranoia.

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

I always double and then triple check my work. I even get the opinion of others by showing them my design work for feedback.

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

I know humans make mistakes no matter their experience level. Since I’m human, I need to reduce the statistical chance of making a mistake.

This part of the design work I find important. Since mistakes slip through the cracks, I need to decrease the chance of slip-ups.

A great engineer always wants to maintain their reputation. So, they make sure all their design work remains high quality. That said, engineering mistakes won’t lead to a bad batch of overly salted cookies.

Rather, mistakes will put you in the middle of a 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 will not lead to an accident. You think because you’ve done it so many times unharmed, you can continue doing it safely.

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

As a result, you understand how the road you drive on includes many variables out of your control. These variables include:

  • Tired drivers
  • Drunk drivers
  • Failures in your car’s mechanics
  • Weather conditions
  • Random objects falling onto the road

Given that, you view driving safety as a function of these variables. As a result, you do your best to drop variables that you can control to reduce an accident.

For this reason, you become paranoid and you quit texting and driving.

The paranoia stems from having a lot of data at your fingertips. The data then makes you paranoid because you realize what could happen.

6) Data-Driven

data driven to get solutions

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

As a result, you always look for more data points to absorb. The more inputs you gather, the better you can address problems.

In return, you’ll make better decisions in all parts of your life.

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

I know once they bury these high voltage cables, the cost to remove or upsize them becomes great. So, I need to get everything right on the first swing.

To illustrate the data points I need, I’ve put together a shortlist:

  • Soil resistivity at the desired cable depth
  • Soil temperature at the desired cable depth
  • Length of the cable run
  • The voltage of the cables
  • Load rating the cables will serve
  • Information on the connected load
  • The temperature in the hot season where we plan to bury the cables

With this data, I can properly run the study using my software to analyze the number of amps each cable can carry. On the same token, I’m always looking for more data.

I realize I need to make certain assumptions in my study runs due to a lack of data. So, by having more data points at my fingertips, the more accurate my results become.

How to apply this to your daily life

Problem: you purchase an expensive appliance because of how great it looked in an ad. You soon then 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 the ad could deceive you. How could it? You saw the ad on TV in a popular channel.

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

  • Read customer experiences on forums
  • Read review sites you find in a Google and Youtube search
  • Research the individual product components and materials
  • Directly contact buyers
  • Contact the manufacturer and ask questions

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

7) Detailed Focus on the Small Steps

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

If you ask an engineer though, they’ll give you way more detail than you ever want to hear. Let’s take a deeper look using our sandwich example:

  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
  8. Place one side of the bread onto the other

how engineers make sandwiches step by step

Now, I may have exaggerated with this sandwich example, but you get my point. You pretty much always get more detail than you ever want to hear from an engineer.

Great engineers always break things down into many small steps. This comes from how we design.

We go from one small step to the next until we see a finished product.

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 the final exam the night before.

Thinking regularly: you think you can learn a quarter’s worth of material in one night before the final exam. You study all day and night with coffee fueling your every action.

Thinking like an engineer: you realize to master a subject you need to learn all the basic material first. This involves understanding 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 and use the internet to study on your own for things you don’t understand.

Every day from day one in the class becomes a small step until the final exam at the end of the quarter.

Applying How Engineers Think to Your Daily Life

There you have it. I parsed through the mindset of great engineers. I gave you only the best ways of thinking to learn.

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 have said before, these ways of thinking created the amazing life we all love so much.

Think of fast cars and planes. The tasty and healthy foods sold at a mass scale. Also, access to instant electricity, the internet, and so much more. All types of engineering and great engineers have molded human life today.

So, you can create an amazing life for yourself too. Learning from how engineers think will give you a leg up, as you try to live a happier and more successful life.

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


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