Ben Asks: Can You Engineer Your Life?

Is your life full of problems that need your constant attention? Are you struggling to be more efficient? Are you wanting to design a better life for yourself?

Engineering, in its very basic form, is the field of problem solving. explains that “Engineering is the application of science and math to solve problems.“

Clients will approach an engineering company, explain the problem they have and the engineers will go about solving it.

A client says “We need to get cars from one side of the river to the other”, and the Engineer replies “Ok, do you want a bridge, a ferry or a tunnel?” Because, there is never just one solution.

When we start to think how to solve the problems of life and how to become more efficient in what we do, application of lessons and principles from Science and Engineering makes the process all the more interesting—at least it did for me! 

Ridley Scott’s 2015 masterpiece, The Martian, is one of my favourite films. In it botanist astronaut, Mark Whatney is left on Mars. In a situation that seemingly meant almost certain death for him,  ‘The Martian’ knows the importance of solving problems to succeed. 

You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

But where do you start? Well, you can engineer almost every part of your existence. You can cherry pick the parts that work for you in helping to alleviate stress and pressure. Eventually, with the work,you’ll find mental freedom from the problems you are struggling against.

It’s a simple process, though it doesn’t feel like that initially. It’s a process I’ve been through and I’m here to guide you. Let’s get started, shall we?

We can easily draw direct comparisons between a production plant and our lives. Hundreds of moving parts, all following their own processes to come together as one. To look at this massive environment and then try to organise it as a singular, streamlined entity, is almost impossible. There is simply too much stuff going on. 

Therefore, the engineers in the facility are mainly concerned with three focal areas: 

  1. Are the machines running?
  2. How are the machines running?
  3. How efficient is the process? 

Our bodies are our machines. This thing that just won’t stay in shape, it won’t let us sleep when we’re tired and no matter how hard we try, it won’t ever look younger without some help from external forces. Though our machine might still be running, it’s not especially efficient, if we’re rushing around at 100mph, with a mountain of emails, a jerk of a boss, and/or a toddler that will NOT shut up, no matter how much you might love them. 

Throughout your day, week, month and year, most of the time we are completing set processes on automatic pilot. 

But, how often have we sat down and looked at those little routines and asked are they doing me harm? Is this the most efficient way? How can I make them better? 

Drawing from my own life experiences and what I observe every day, we are conditioned by this super chaotic society and its ever-evolving values to run on full gas from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to bed and in doing this, we are neither focused on maintaining the machine to its optimum level, or running our processes in the most efficient manner. 

Not convinced? Look at our workplaces; in a study completed by, workplace stress has risen nearly 20% in the last three decades. With 76% of the people stating that the workplace stress had a negative effect on their personal relationships and 16% of people walking out of the company as the load was too high.

In an article on, from 7500 people around 23% reported feeling burnt out “very often” at work or “always”. 

On top of that, there are plenty of studies suggesting we’re not getting enough shut-eye. Late-night Netflix binging and disruptive boozing are doing us no favours. The book ‘Why we Sleep’, by Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist, discusses the problems with sleep deprivation. Clinical studies of thousands of people offer surprising and quite frankly, terrifying results. He says how forcing ourselves awake with an alarm, alcohol and poor sleep hygiene is disruptive to our memory function, our mood stability and eating habits.

Actually, missing our precious pillow time is one of the leading causes of heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes and depression. Yet, we all do it. We all give our bodies less sleep than it needs to function optimally, still expecting to be over-achievers.

We wouldn’t drive our cars in 1st gear on the red line everywhere and wonder why the engine packed in early. 

So if we wouldn’t treat the most trivial of domestic appliances this way, why are we so harsh on our own living, breathing machines every. single. day? Everything needs servicing, including ourselves. It took an airborne near-miss to make me realise this.

As the plane approached the runway during a snowstorm in the middle of a Norwegian winter, my heart rate was already in the triple figures. My hands were sweating, I tightened my seat belt and I looked out the window. 

This was my tenth flight in ten weeks and this period was knocking me for six. Along with trying to settle into a new country, learn a new language, work a full-time, stressful job and build a house, I was now trying to start a side hustle, to escape the woes of the corporate world. 

I’d visited a customer in the North of Norway and was now homeward bound. As we started to descend, the turbulence increased, and I could feel the anxiety rise. Normally, I’m quite a calm passenger. This was definitely not good. Already at the limit of my mental and physical capacity, I was horrified to see, as we came through the clouds, the runway–a good 50m away from where the plane was attempting to land. 

The engines boosted, the roar of the propellers shook the aircraft furiously and the passengers all gave each other nervous glances. 

The pilot banked hard and climbed high, and saved us all from the peril that could have been. He came back around and attempted to land again, making it down successfully this time. The engines were shut off and I exhaled for the first time in what seemed hours. Dazed, I collected my bag, disembarked and I drove home. I don’t even remember the journey, but within 30 seconds of entering the door, years of stress, despondency and depression came out in a flood of tears in front of my wife. I curled up on her lap and wept. Naturally, she asked me what was wrong.

There was no way to explain to her how I was feeling. 

From the outside I was just working away. I was busy for sure, but inside, I couldn’t tell her why I was so empty. I just kept working hoping it would pass. I wanted more and the only way to get there was to work more, regardless of how it was making me feel.

To try and accurately describe to her what I was going through, I found a piece of paper and just wrote down everything that was in my mind. I filled a whole A4 side, every line split into two and some things also written around the edges. It wasn’t good.

I was also sick, I wasn’t taking care of myself and I had been bouncing off the limiter, propped up on YouTube motivational videos for years; Be a Tiger, right?

I realised I had to change. I had to stop and figure this out as there was no point chasing success to live a better life, if in the end, my life would be shorter. 

Looking back now, that was a pivotal moment. I needed those tears to flow. I needed the frustration and disappointment and fear and anger to dissipate. I’ve since learned tears physically carry stress hormones in them, out of your body. As men, we are conditioned from a young age not to cry or show weakness, of which crying is apparently a sign. I call bullshit on that. 

We’re human before we are men and sometimes, we need to cry just as hard as anyone else. Sometimes when the chaos of life overwhelms us, we can see the machine is not functioning properly, but we have somehow normalised a bad machine process, we need a part to ping off before we acknowledge the issue, dissemble the machine and reassemble with new or repaired parts. Like an engineer, we need to review. We need to ask ourselves those key questions:

  1. Is the machine on? I hope so, but… 
  2. How well is the machine running? 

If you’ve found this blog post, your machine is definitely on, but you’ve already identified it’s not running well.

I started small. Firstly, I worked on my sleep. To make sure I was ready to sleep when I needed to, I started exercising again. Eating healthily wasn’t so hard, but I cut out things like alcohol and sugar, just initially. They contribute so much to mood swings, I figured if I was committed to engineering my life to be better, I need to be on a level. It wasn’t easy. I meditated, I did yoga, As a result,  I grew stronger, calmer, more focussed. I made better decisions. I was all around less fatigued and less stressed as a result of the changes in the way that I ran my “machine”. 

I then took a look at my processes. I got an excel sheet and asked, how can I be more efficient with the same hours in the day? I drew out my day plan and started moving bits around. I asked, what’s my biggest problem and what is the root cause? With this I was able to clearly see what was going wrong. 

And in the three years since then, I’ve not stopped, I still analyse and I still make changes. It’s an ever- evolving process just like in a manufacturing facility; a “Continuous Improvement Process”, an engineering method used all over the world.

A “Continuous Improvement Process” is just like a game of hitting the moles when they pop out the holes at the fairground. Note, the great thing about these ‘moles’: each time you hit them, they get smaller and return only with less strength. 

Just as it is impossible to hit every mole at the same time, it’s important to realize that you can’t tackle each of life’s problems with full force, all at the same time. That approach is unsustainable.

So where do you start? You need to take this big old thing called life and start breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then you need to prioritise. Choose which mole to whack first.

Health is always the priority. Always. You can’t buy good health. 

If you believe you’re of sound mind and fitness, which area of your life are you going to engineer next?

Ben Stalsberg

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Asks: Do you need help?

Does your work seem a bit pointless, there’s not enough money to do all the things you want to do and there’s never enough time in the week to get it all done? Are you sitting, wondering, why isn’t this easy anymore?!

The master plan was laid out by our parents; get a job, get a partner, buy a house, take a loan, work, pay bills, have kids and then live a happy life, right? But now, for whatever reason, you’ve sat down, stared at your screens, amid the complete disorder and confusion, and thought, **** what now? Why is the plan not working? Set off down the river of life with a map of where to go, but you’ve just ended up totally lost.

I get it, I’ve been there, and first up, it’s NOT your fault. We were just the unlucky ones that were told we could have the world (if we worked hard enough?), but ended up just like Oliver Twist asking “Please Sir, can I have some more?”.  

The most important action point  is to STOP. Now. Before you go too far. Stop  figure it all out before it gets too late. For me, it led me down a one-way path to the doctors office, getting signed off for stress and depression, and I don’t want that happening to you!

So I ask, do you want to be free? Do you wanna do what you wanna do? Do you want to say those immortal words at the start of the song “Loaded” by Primal Scream and hear those trumpets blaring as you succeed at life? 

I’m here to help you. Having figured out a journey for myself to get off this path (and onto a happier, healthier one) the hard way, I’d like to share my findings to make it easier for you, to accelerate your journey. I’m going to show you how to ENGINEER YOUR LIFE FOR SUCCESS. 

What does that mean though? Well, sometimes life can be a bit grey and sometimes we need  to try and make things a little more black and white. Engineering, in the way it uses facts, figures, statistics etc. is very much a black and white world. We can logically look at life’s problems and try to use logical methods, data analysis, engineering management techniques, that have already been proven over hundreds of years, in manufacturing facilities from all over the world, to try to make life less pointless, easier and happier.

So what is the root cause of the problem? 

The second law of Thermodynamics states that all order will descend into chaos over a given period of time. 

Thermodynamics, is a fancy word for the relationship between heat and other forms of energy, and there are three “laws”, each describing something that we have observed as engineers or scientists, which can explain why certain things happen. 

To describe the 2nd law, imagine you have two rooms, one full of hot air and another filled with cold. When you open the door, the hot air tries to lose its energy by moving to the cold room. As the hot air starts to mix with the cold air, there is no longer order in the system.

The two separate, ordered, elements begin to mix. Just like pouring milk in your tea or coffee in the morning and watching the white fluid, combine with the black. 

It takes some time to fully combine into the brown end result and once you have poured that first drop of milk, there is no going back. You have taken two organised items and combined them. In this combination, you have created chaos. Sometimes, as in the case of a nice cup of coffee , this works out quite well indeed. Often, however, particularly in the case of life, it doesn’t.

The measure of how much chaos the system has is called “Entropy”, a word, which is now not only used in science, to describe the amount of chaos, or disorder in a system. It is also used in jewellery, economics, business workplaces, etc. The higher the entropy, the more chaos there is. The lower the number, the more stable the situation. 

When the two rooms have equalised or the milk is fully stirred into the coffee. This is when chaos is at its highest and the entropy is also at its highest value. To try to separate those two items again back to their original states would be almost impossible and if the system is closed, where no external factors can affect the situation, it is deemed to be simply irreversible. 

The only way to achieve zero chaos, or to have the entropy with a zero value, is to have an absolute zero temperature. Nothing moves. Therefore, if nothing is moving, nothing can combine with anything, no chaos can occur.

But that’s not living is it? If we never moved, then we’d just be existing. So, we have to move and when we move, we create chaos The more we do, the busier we get, then the more chaos we add in. This is happening to everyone. Therefore when we are in a workplace for example, or a store or a school, with multiple people, all creating chaos, we really need to be on top of our game. Otherwise, before you know it, you feel overwhelmed, and all the plates you have spinning fall to the ground.

A few years back, my plates crashed to the floor pretty dramatically. It’s not common as a guy to admit these things. As I sat in a psychologist’s office, crying into my sleeve, snot running out my nose, a victim of my own chaos, I looked at the physician in desperation.  “Go and find out who you really are” was her only advice. She was convinced that, with this information, I would be able to figure out how to fix the problematic situation that I was in. 

At first, I was stunned. Go and what? I was sitting there, pouring my heart out to this person and what I really wanted was for a step to step guide of how to fix myself. What was I paying her for?! But as I contemplated her advice, I realised the answer was actually right in front of me. 

Never did I think that the only way to get me out of the situation was looking at the one thing I had been doing for my whole life. ENGINEERING. 

I embarked on a plan to Engineer my Life.  

When I started to analyse my life as if I was at work, my progress was  incredible. I could organise, simplify and execute in a smarter, faster, more elegant way, with more productivity than ever before. I found simple theories embedded in the heart of engineering, and turned them around and pointed them squarely at my situation. I lost my fear, I challenged my workplace, I had more money, I had more free time. I was less stressed, healthier, stronger, happier than ever before.  Like a shipwreck being brought up from the ocean bed, or an old banger restored to its former glory, I came back and went beyond where I originally was. 

The key to all this extraordinary amount of personal growth was to invest time into making my life, money, work and health, more efficient. I planned everything from my time used throughout the day to how much money I was spending on a five month ahead basis. 

I started to work smarter, not harder and the results were seen immediately. I stood back, climbed up the mountain and looked down on my life from a far and saw my new path ahead was far better than the muddy swamp I’d been trailing in before.

So why is this story pertinent to you?

Looking around my friendship group, I realise I’m not the only one getting to my mid-to-late thirties and wondering if I took a wrong turn, asking why I didn’t appear to have the coping skills needed to deal healthily with life’s dealt disappointments early on so they didn’t grow into disasters. On the other side of what can only be described as a pretty traumatic struggle, I know I would have learned faster if I’d had a mentor, just as in business, to guide me through the emotional gauntlet of life. 

I want to explain the theories to you, so that you can gain some control in this world full of chaos. Just the same as people’s preference of how much milk is good for their taste of a milky coffee, there is a limit of how much chaos is acceptable for people’s lives. To control the chaos, to limit the amount to our own personal level, we need to input energy by means of control measures.  

As we look at our own lives and the chaos life creates–both day-to-day and longer term–, then it helps to start thinking in terms of chaos and Entropy. If we know and accept that chaos will occur in life, it is written in the law, our aim should be to try and aim for the lowest Entropy value possible. We can’t always control external forces, that’s just how the game works, but by ensuring the value is low in what we can control, external forces only push the value up slightly, rather than dramatically.

We need more order in our lives, according to Erwin Schrödinger. In his 1944 Book, “What is Life”, he stated we need to have more Negentropy. Schrödinger, described Negentrohpy as “negative entropy” and states that as an organism, we crave order What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy.” 

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, from the Bioelectrodynamics Laboratory, Open University, U.K,  explains this as 

Schrödinger uses it to identify the remarkable ability of the living system, not only to avoid the effects of entropy production – as dictated by the second law – but to do just the opposite, to increase organization, which intuitively, seems like the converse of entropy.”

Therefore, to create more order from the chaos that we live in, I want to show you tried and tested techniques from Engineering.  Methodologies that control the chaos in production facilities for example, and explain how you could use them in your life. 

I want to show you how you too could analyse your life and make it better with Lean Engineering, the PDCA Cycle, or Plan, Do, Check, Action. I want to show you how you could use the 5S principle to get organised. Or how  water–the source of life–demonstrates  why it’s so hard to change our actions to get onto a more progressive path. I want you to understand that maybe your boss is a victim of the Peter Principle, your company doesn’t love you and why you need emotional distance to obtain equality. I want to show you how you could organise your money, so you will have safety and security, bringing less stress.

Together we can engineer your life, wellbeing, money and work for a happier, healthier, more prosperous and successful way of life.

Every Friday evening I’ll be posting. All you need to do is subscribe to be alerted when there’s a new post. 

Now, go listen to Primal Scream and get fired up. We’re going on a journey and we’re going to get loaded on life! We’re going to have a party!  


Ben Stalsberg

While waiting for the next blog, consider the phrase ‘Go and find out who you really are’. How would you react to this statement? Who is the real you? What steps do you think you need to take for that discovery?

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved