Ben Asks: What is the Pareto Principle?

Life can be completely chaotic. Understanding where our time, energy and resources go and use this information to our own benefit ourselves, could be the key to taking back control. Understanding the 80/20 law is a wonderful way to explain life in better detail.

Vilfredo Pareto is a hero of mine. He is a person that looked at the world and applied numbers to it. He found logic and rules in the chaos. He was an engineer. 

His most famous piece of work was his analysis of the distribution of wealth in Italy. He found that 20% of the people owned 80% of the land and therefore he could say the remaining 80% of the people owned only 20%. 

Now-a-days, the ‘80-20 rule’ is applied everywhere from finance, to engineering, to horticulture. It is well-known 80% of the sales will come from 20% of the clients, 80% of the defects in a production plant will occur on 20% of the products, 80% of the harvest will come from 20% of the land.

How does this help us in a chaotic life?  Well, how do we analyse ‘life’? A good starting point is to use this simple tool to show us how to be more savvy about the tasks we take on.

80/20 Energy Distribution

As a generalisation, we can say 80% of a given project will take 20% of the effort, therefore when we understand this, and when we reach the last 20% and we start to struggle. We can understand that it is completely normal. 

The higher effort required to finish a project is the reason why so many jobs end up half completed or the final detail work comes out at a lower quality standard than the rest. The energy to finish, as a generalisation, is so much greater – 60% higher in fact (80-20%), than the ‘normal’ energy required to start and roll through 80% of the project itself.  Knowing it will be a struggle, we can ensure we apply the correct strategy to cope. 

We act rather than react. 

Imagine you take a long drive with your partner to a new city for a weekend away. If we apply the Pareto Principle, we know that 80% of the journey will be easy. Requiring only 20% of the effort, the miles will flow under the vehicle as you waft along without a care in the world. That is, until you reach the final 20% of the journey. Strap in and hold on as this shit’s going to go down. 80% of the effort is going to be needed to get you through that city centre. The unfamiliar road signs, the crazy local drivers and the bonkers one way system is going to be taxing to deal with. 

However, knowing this in advance we can find a strategy to cope. We could plot the distance and find an appropriate place to take a break around 80% of the total journey. A good coffee break to sit down and accurately plan the final route to the destination. 

The interesting (albeit super nerdy)  thing about the principle is the extrapolation that comes with it. 

As 80% of the effort is on the last 20% of the project, in this last 20% of the activity, the first 80% of it will take 20% of the effort, then the final 20% of the final 20% will take 80% of the 80% of the effort. Confused?! Take a look at the graph for a more visual explanation.

Exponentially increasing, the closer you get to 100%, the more and more effort you need to finish. Finding the entrance to a city centre hotel car park is always the worst, right?

Overloaded at Work?

Have you ever sat down and thought “why is work so hard now-a-days?”. In the past it seemed like you could give your full attention to a project, the stress was lower and the end result was better. But now, it feels like you are just pounding out project after project? I know I do.

Maybe the Pareto Principle can help us understand this. Imagine all of the projects you ever completed at work were taken in series. One after the other after the other. Start a project, see it through until the end, finish and then start the next. The graph of effort against time would look like this. 

Periods of low effort and periods of high effort. After each high effort, a chance to relax and recuperate due to a period of low effort from the next project. A manageable system that works, right?

But if you are a manager of a company and you looked at this chart, would it not be so unreasonable to say that the workforce is only running at 20% of their effort for 80% of their time? Therefore, running projects in parallel should be completed. A reasonable assumption one might say for the overall productivity of the company.

That’s great until projects get delayed, high level periods start to overlap and of course the average overall maintained effort increases. 

With the prolonged increase in effort, comes the stress and fatigue that if not properly managed, can cause failure. 

In this instance, failure may mean not completing a project or turning the project in at a substandard level. While objectively, any rational human would judge you compassionately for having attempted to juggle multiple projects, in your mind, neither failure nor a lack of quality, is going to make you feel good.

Understanding this, could help realise why you are feeling exhausted, or why you need to sit down with your boss and ask for a time out. Without this understanding, without knowing your limits, you could be exposing yourself to the harm of a stressful environment for too long a period of time.

Managing your Time, Money and Resources

In production facilities, we use Pareto charts to look at defects. We need to know where the biggest problems are to fix, objectively, rather than with subjective opinions. Imagine we were in a car factory and every day a car came down the line with a smashed windscreen. In addition, 20 cars came down the line with a passenger door that didn’t open and 100 cars came down with a scratch in the paint work. Which is the problem to solve first?

Many people would think the windscreen first – it’s a terrible thing, right? Then the doors, followed by the paint as that’s an easy fix. That was my assumption when starting as a graduate engineer, but how wrong I was. First we would tackle the paint. 100 customers would complain of the scratch in the paintwork Vs. the one person with a smashed windscreen. Therefore to satisfy more people, we take the highest amount first.  

We need to assess the amount of potential complaints by the number of incidents. The way we can do this is with a ‘Pareto Chart’. The below chart shows an example for defects in a titanium facility. A classic Pareto Principle distribution showing a clearer picture of where to focus our attention. 

File:Pareto chart of titanium investment casting defects.svg

Pareto charts are something I consider essential to my daily life. I use them everywhere. At work, at home and when trying to figure out a ‘why’.  Have you ever inputted your budget into a chart like this to see where your money goes? 

The same pattern will emerge. The highest is probably the mortgage, followed by the bills, then clothing, food, entertaining etc. How does this help you though? Well just like an engineer in a production plant trying to reduce defects to bring the total level down. When plotting your monthly budget into a Pareto Chart, it is easy to identify areas to save money. You look at the highest bar first and work your way down the chart to the bottom. 

To take another example, have you ever measured what you do during the day and plotted the times on a Pareto Chart? 

A typical day could be, wake up at 6am, lay in bed until 6:15. Get up, shower, have some breakfast and leave for work. Commute to work and slave away all day before returning home. Go for a run, prepare the evening meal, take a shower. Sit down to eat food, turn on the TV. At the end, brush your teeth and go to bed. Read for half an hour and sleep.

The data in a table format would be as follows.

Wake up0.25 (quarter of an hour) 
Showering (morning and evening)0.5 (half an hour)
Commuting (to and from)2
Evening Meal Prep1
Brushing teeth and going to bed0.25

And this data plotted as a bar chart.

What if we now move the chart to a Pareto style? We simply re-order the blocks to show the biggest on the left and the smallest on the right.

Now the results become quite interesting. If we were to look for things to reduce to allow us to have more free time, it becomes quite easy to see where our time is being wasted. 

How many people put ‘watching TV’ as a hobby on their CV do you think? The 3rd biggest usage of time in our days! reports for people aged 25-44, the average TV time per day was 2.75 hours, (just in case you thought my numbers were above average).

When I completed this task on myself to try and make my day more productive, it was a shock to realize where my time went – and I am pretty abnormal. I make sure I have eight hours in bed each night, most people only manage six to seven. If I wanted more time, to create more freedom, I knew where I could find it. Turning off the TV and investing some of that time to better myself… 

80% of the time above goes to working, commuting and sleeping activities. Therefore you only have 20% left for you. What would you like to do with it?

The Pareto Principle can be applied to almost anything to understand where your energy, time, money, resources etc are going. It can help you understand why you are burnt out. It can be a tool to show your manager that you need to cool it down a bit. It can be a guide to knowing when to take a break before you do that final push. 

Think about an area in your life you would like to understand and see how Pareto can help you. 

Let me know how you get on! 

Ben Stalsberg

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Explains: Lesson learned from a ‘5 Year Plan’

Trying to find a little ‘peace of mind’ can sometimes be the well-needed stress relief in a chaotic, high-speed world. Thinking in the long term could be a method to help you find that aid. Let’s discuss my experience with a ‘5 Year Plan’ and see if it can help you too.

The student bar at Oxford Brookes University was unusually busy on a Thursday night. The sporty people were spread over an area in the corner, the music types were hanging near the pool tables and the ‘in crowd’ were sitting at the bar chatting with the bar staff. Intermingled in all these groups were ‘everyone in between’ sitting, standing, chatting, laughing and having a pretty good time.  

Sean, my good friend, was talking to us about his plans for the future. Sean and I met during the engineering program introduction day and hit it off immediately. A little bit older than me, he became a big brother-type figure in my life.  We shared common interests and made each other laugh, though it was notable how often I was the butt of his jokes. He would sometimes play pranks on me and tell stories to strangers of my mishaps, but we were good mates. I kind of felt a bit of respect for him with the lessons and guidance he showed me along the way. If Sean slipped up on anything though, I was always there to pounce. 

On that night in the bar, Sean was discussing his ‘5 Year Plan’. My former, 20 year year old younger self had never heard of anything so grown up coming out from such a hoodie-clad-person. Sean detailed his career plan, his goals to save for an apartment and his intentions for him and his girlfriend’s future. He seemed to have it all figured out.

It is only reflecting back now, that I can appreciate how wise Sean’s words were. We all should have listened and made notes as if we were in a lecture from a proper professor. Solid advice, most likely handed down from his father to him, which Sean was gracious enough to share with his motley crew.  Regrettably, instead of seeing this advice for the value it carried, it was simply an opportunity for ridicule for my immature self. His advice was not ‘normal’ at our age, and with anything not normal, it was open for mockery. I pasted him that night for his fancy ‘5 Year Plan’ and little was said about it ever again.. 

In those subsequent years after graduation, I followed my dad’s way of thinking. Solve one problem, then wonder what is next, or react to the next thing coming your way. I was in completely ‘reactive’ state of mind, as opposed to  the logically laid out ‘active’ one Sean had. I had an idea where I wanted to go; I wanted to work in Formula 1. However, I didn’t have many plans or ideas for anything else. 

The years passed as I lived a life of instant gratification. My ‘buy now pay later’ mentality fuelled by a life of living in the moment and not really caring about the future. It was only when I moved to Norway, some 15 years later, I sat down and thought, “Shit I really need to sort this out”. I had racked up a mountain of debt and was becoming fed up with the restrictions that came with it. I reflected that perhaps Sean had been onto something after all.

I sat down and calculated my budget and worked out how many months it would be to pay off everything. The credit cards, car loan, loans from family members and so on. “Life is so much more than just money, but what else did I want though? If this is the direction I am heading, what would I like to see along the way?” I pondered. 

As I expanded my thinking from finiances into other areas – fitness, housing, vehicles etc. I found myself l visualising Ben, five years in the future. Where was he? What was he doing? How did he look? What did he wear? What were his priorities?

As I worked out the answers to these questions, like inputting a GPS coordinate into a sat nav system, I saw a new path to follow. A guided route stretched way ahead in front of me to a vision of my new better life. 

But the time frame seemed so long, 

“Five years of my life? Would it be worth it? But how long really is five years?”  I considered the reality of five years. “If our generation will live until we are 80-90, and I’m 35, I still have 45-55 years to go. If I sacrifice five years now to pay off the 15 years of fun I’ve just had and make the next 45-55 years of life better, it doesn’t seem so bad of a trade off after all?”. This was the motivation I needed.  

I made a spreadsheet for every part of my life. Finances, career plan, housing, vehicle options, savings, vacation plans, a short, medium and long term wish list. I set in as much detail as I could and planned everything I could think of. Much like a mountaineer setting off to climb a difficult path, I had a map of where to go, what obstacles to look out for and what milestones to celebrate along the way. 

As I write this post I’m coming to the end of the 5 year period and here is what I have learned on my journey. 

At Peace

I found in my past I was always rushing to get to where I wanted to go. Now, I understand with careful planning it’s going to take it’s own time to get there. Like running a marathon, I can sit back, relax and settle into a good pace. Life is less stressful when you are not sprinting from one thing to the next. 

Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” discusses how successful entrepreneurs look back on the times starting out, hustling their way to achieve year upon year as the best times in the company. When they have made it and start to follow their ‘What’, rather than their ‘Why’, the focus is lost and the enjoyment decreases too. 

Therefore, why not relax and enjoy those early days longer? When you chase a dream the story is over when you accomplish it, right? 

Delayed Gratification

I had/have a financial plan in place enabling me to live an extraordinary life in the future. For example, I don’t have a fancy car now, on a loan, I have a regular VW Golf and I’m saving money each month for my ‘dream car’ later. The temptation of instant gratification now, is overcome by the thought or dream of what will come later. But it is not easy. Swimming against the flow of a society pushing you down river into debt is hard. What I found to ease my mind was actually the improvement to me, my character.

The ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment’ by W Mischel, E B Ebbesen, A R Zeiss, studied how children reacted to a simple challenge. A single marshmallow now, or two later. The study, in which some modern day versions have some very amusing YouTube videos, showed some very interesting results—albeit with some counter arguments and studies weakening the original theory such as the work completed by Watts, Duncan and Quen

The team in the original study, followed the children for the next 40 years of their lives.  The results showed the children who had waited and had the ‘delayed gratification’ of two marshmallows were more successful, achieved higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, less divorce, lower obesity levels etc. 
Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D, wrote in Psychology today, “Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster….People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health, and finances”


The final thing I noticed when I planned ahead in my life was the increased motivation to get things done. Much like Edwin Locke’s ‘Goal-Setting Theory’. A technique used by management companies all over the world, encouraging specific, challenging, and time defined goals as a key for success. By planning, I became super-productive and super-motivated.

But a word of caution. It is easy to write almost anything down on a ‘5 Year Plan’ and ‘hope’ it just happens. One could write ‘to be a millionaire’, but this may lead to more stress and depression if you are simply not able to or not lucky enough to achieve it. 

My advice, taken from the book ‘Start with Why’, is to begin with defining your ‘Why’ first. Why do you want to be in that position? Why do you want to move there? Why do you want that vehicle?

Having a clear understanding of ‘why’ is one of the most powerful tools in the armoury. When times go bad or temptation comes along to veer off your path, remembering your ‘why’ helps you steer a true course forwards. 

I was fed up with being trapped by the restrictions of being in debt. My ‘why’ is freedom.

This ‘5 Year Plan’ for your life concept isn’t new. This isn’t an original thought from me. There are even ‘wikihow’ pages on how to do it. People will advise you on Youtube how to use a picture board to show the things you desire. Whereas others will say write everything down and place it in a special jar. I made a spreadsheet. 

How do you create the plan? Well, it’s up to you. But you’ve already taken the first step, so good luck!

“Slow and steady wins the race”, right? The benefits of a 5 year plan have shown me you can gain more control of your life, reduce the chaos and improve your own character in doing so. 

So why not try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

Ben Stalsberg

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved,preference%20for%20a%20later%20reward.

Ben Asks: How do you manage fear?


Fear can be a positive or negative influence in your life. Manage it well and it can guide you to safety. Manage it badly and it can paralyse you and hold you back from achieving your wildest dreams. Overcoming fear usually means staring it right in the face without blinking. It’s not an easy skill to learn, but it’s something you can master….with a little bit of courage.

Jim’s body was limp. The wave had knocked him unconscious after tossing his body like a ragdoll into a piece of deck equipment. The Doctor was at the helm, unable to leave his position, battling with the furious storm. I had to take charge. I was dazed, confused and soaking wet from the 20ft wave that had just crashed over the side of the yacht. Ten days earlier, fear would have prevented me helping my friend. Now though, I had the mental strength to overcome my fear.

I had been chasing a career since a young age. I had a dream and I worked damn hard until I finally made it as a professional test driver. The relentless work ethic had paid off, however I was in need of a break. When a friend of mine invited me to see a start of a yacht race he was competing in, something inside of me said this would be a good weekend away. Little did I know, it would be a life-changing event.

The Solent is a sailing mecca in the south of England. It was also home to the start of the 2011-12 Clipper Round-the-World Yacht Race. A pay-to-play set up where people from all walks of life can become offshore sailors. Racing 12 identical yachts east around the world on a 42,000 mile journey, it’s quite the adventure.

Teams take on Mother Nature in some of the world’s most extreme environments—those even professional sailors find hairy. Working in revolving watches, sailing is a non-stop battle 24 hours a day. The crews of amateurs must come together to form a tightly knit team to survive.

Fast forward two and a bit years to Cape Town, South Africa, this was exactly what I was about to do. The weekend in the Solent had had such an impact on me that I went home that night and immediately signed up for the race. I hadn’t had the money to compete at first. But I had sold my apartment, lived in the cheapest B&Bs I could find and drove an old banger for a year to be able to get my place onboard. 

Now, all those sacrifices had been worth it. We were on the 3rd leg of the journey bound for Albany, Australia. A local priest blessed the boats, as I gave each of my team a hug and wishes for the upcoming journey. I was the watch leader, a seasoned sailor by now and despite bagging four race starts, this one felt completely different. The atmosphere was tense, compounded by the silence of the crew.  A lot of cigarettes were being smoked, even by the non-smokers. To ease my tension I went below deck for one last check of my equipment. My thermal underwear was packed away, my sleeping bag was prepped at the end of my bunk and my foulies were hung in the locker. Foulies, the affectionate name for the wet weather gear we used to protect us from foul weather we experienced at sea.

The challenge that lay ahead was the Southern Ocean. Home to monsterous waves, without land mass to break up the energy, the swells of the Southern Ocean can grow to the size of houses. If there’s enough distance between your vessel and the rest of the fleet, the closest humans are the astronauts in the space station. if you get into trouble, helicopters can’t save you. Out here, there is no help. 

With no real knowledge or experience of such isolation, the anecdotes peppering the pre-race training sessions sounded mythically exciting. The reality would turn out to be truly petrifying. After some experience in the open ocean, I knew it was down to me and my crew to look after one another. My crew was everything to me. 

Under the protective gaze of Table Mountain, Guardian of the Southern Seas—so legend has it — we departed. Always dramatic, the race start saw the boats racing exceptionally close to one another. Although the winds initially were manageable, they started to escalate quickly. As our afternoon watch ended, we knew we had to get some quality rest for the battle we would undoubtedly face that evening.

I awoke to the sound of a menacing wind. It felt like a screaming banshee, outside the hatch and coming to get me. I was wide awake, with the growing fear of impending doom coursing through my body. I took a deep breath and pushed my anxious thoughts aside. I managed to wrestle myself out of my bunk and into my foulies. I took a seat in the galley and awaited my call to duty. 

 “Port Watch, ready!” shouted a crew member from above.

The wind punched me in the face as I came up onto the deck. The icy cold spray of the salty ocean water piercing my face like a thousand needles. It was gusting to over 100 knots now. The sky was dark and brutal; no moon, no stars, just a bleak, horrid darkness smothering us all and making the visibility nightmarish. Then I saw it, high, way high behind the back of the boat, a strange white whisper. It was completely out of place from any normal realm of physics or reality. I couldn’t really figure out what it was until the boat hit the bottom of the wave, juddered. This monster wave picked us up — our little craft, a mere matchstick between the thumb and finger of a giant. The helmer hollered “hold on!”, as we all scrambled to find cover from the ocean wash that drenched the boat from the sky.

I sat in the shallow dug out where usually our feet would be, panic setting in. Shit had suddenly gotten very real. I had to calm my anxiety.

Cowering, eyes wide open, I surveyed the crew around me. They didn’t seem at all fearful, as they faced this futile challenge. My friend nodded an ‘Are you ok?’ gesture, meeting my gaze, his eyes filled with concern. No. No. I was not ok. I scrambled back down the hatch to the relative safety inside. 

Not being able to see the mortal terror on deck felt irrationally comforting. Yet, this brief reprieve gave way to another tsunami of emotion. Flooded with shame, I pulled my hood over my head. Hot tears streamed down my face as my body tried to exorcise the stress. 

The crew’s shift finished. I barely slept during the off-watch. A gulf separated me from the cosy feeling of belonging I had shared with my crew mere hours earlier. Feelings of complete failure set in, as I teetered on the ridge of my mental limitations. My mind was out-of-control, catatrophising all the ways in which the boat could keel over and take us all out—500 miles from any other signs of life. How the hell would I get out of here? I thought back to the lessons learned from my days as a professional test driver – to drive fast, first you start slow.

This is what I had to do, I had to build up slowly. The storm wasn’t going anywhere and we couldn’t just get off the boat. The situation in front of me was one that I had to deal with. By having a new baseline, a new normal, I could start to ACT rather than REACT to the situation. Acting can be considered as a more thoughtful approach to a situation whereas reacting, brings forwards your fight and flight responses.

I went up and faced my fear. I took my position on the helm and lasted about 10 minutes. Jolts of fear racing through my body every time the boat lurched on a wave or I mistimed a correction. I called another crew member, he would take over, I would go down below, reset and find a new normal again . “OK, you can do 10 minutes, just do 15 minutes more” I would say to myself.

Slowly but surely I built up my time behind the wheel increasing my confidence. Confidence in myself being able to complete the task but also the confidence in the boat being able to handle the extreme situations. 

Watch after watch, day after day, my confidence increased. I faced my fear and won.

Another storm entered in the wake of the last. One minute, Jim and I sat singing and joking. The next, I opened my eyes to see that I was face down on the ground. A rogue monster wave had hit the boat broadside from behind and caught the helmer completely off guard. Dazed, I looked up and saw my friend crumpled in a corner. I had to help him. “The boat is fine, as long as the boat is fine, then we can carry on” I thought. My new-found resilience was kicking in.

Turning on autopilot, I looked down at Jim,now turning blue. I rolled him over, checked for breathing, thumped his chest and called for help. Crew members came to help me as he regained consciousness, but we still needed to move him down below. Together as a team, a family now, we worked together to help our friend. We lifted him up, down the companion way to the galley and propped him up on the seating space. An old seadog by now, with a cup of warm coco in his belly and some bed rest prescribed by the skipper, Jim was fine. Albeit, a bit battered and bruised.

Jim survived, just as we all did. Those who have sailed the oceans know that it changes you. For me, by having those experiences,  life on land became a lot easier to deal with. Lessons learned in challenging environments are lessons not easily forgotten. 

Fear and anxiety are part of every day life. Facing fear or avoiding it is natural, but if your fear or anxiety interferes with your enjoyment of life on a chronic basis, I advise you seek professional help or talk to a trusted friend. We all need a little guidance sometimes and someone qualified to pinpoint the causes of your distress, can help you find a resolution far more quickly.

 “He who has truly overcome his fears is completely free” – Aristotle

Ben Stalsberg

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: How do you manage failure?

Failure is one of the most normal things in business, science and engineering. Yet in life, it brings us down, tears us apart and makes us negative towards others. Why?

Failing sucks, right? I’ve been fired from a job, crashed a car and flunked numerous exams. 

If I listed all my failures, you would probably wonder why you are reading a blog from such a pathetic person.  However, I would guess the same would be true when looking at some of the most successful people in the world. 

If you looked at the shots Michael Jordan missed, the number of races Lewis Hamilton hasn’t won or even the number of times Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets crashed, you would probably think they were losers too. But in most cases failure is good – Why? Because nothing teaches you more about how something works than when something fails.

If a vehicle manufacturer wants to know how far a car can drive, they put it through a durability cycle and literally drive it until things break. When they break, then they are logged and the engineers can correlate whether their calculations were correct or not. They learn only in the moment of failure.

When something fails in engineering, we look at it, analyse it and ask the question, why did it fail?

In answering that question, then we make sure it doesn’t happen again and the product gets better. 

You look at what is not good, constantly, and work on those things to make it work. The PDCA cycle is a great example of this.

The difficulty arises when you become so focussed and so conditioned on looking at the failures or the negatives, that you don’t have time to stand back and look at the successes.  

As a ‘detail-driven’ person, it took me well over two years living in the house I built to stop looking at the small mistakes, the pieces of wood I didn’t cut right or the slight error in production of some things. To stand back and see the house as a whole end result and form a different opinion. 

This conditioning of always looking at the negatives and seeing failures more than successes was really a contributing factor to my struggle in life. At work, projects have defined timelines and new ones are always coming along to keep you distracted from the one that has just gone by. If you messed up on a project three years ago, chances are you’ve already chalked it off and moved on to the next. The longer timeline helps you in these cases.

But in life, it seems to be harder. Sometimes, like me, we will look back on things that happened three years ago and still feel pain, regret or sadness. 

When we focus on the failures, we tend to miss what else is going on. Just like a plot of the FTSE 100 where the failures like the 2008 financial crisis are just blips in the road to a constantly increasing chart.


In 2017 my wife and I thought about starting a house build project. We found a company to deliver the materials and we knew a builder who would be the project manager and oversee the construction. He was a long-term friend of my wifes brother and his family lived only 100m away from the building plot.  If you were going to trust anyone in a foreign country with your hard-earned cash, he was up there high on the list. 

Our assumption though, could not have been any worse as in 2018, this very same person had walked off with £130,000 of our money and left us with only a bare strip of ground. 

Trusting this guy and just paying him money without checking, questioning or vetting was by far the biggest failure in my life. It put me back years in my plan with regards to integrating to Norway, my career and my finances and was a huge contributing factor to my breakdown. 

That failure though, looking back from a far, was actually quite a good thing to happen to me. If that guy had not done what he did to us, things would not be as good as they are now. 

You might ask, how can someone come into your life, rip it to parts, drink champagne each weekend in the local bar on your money and that has possibly been a good thing that happened to you?

Well, in engineering, failure has three beneficial results and the same three things we should all learn from for life too. 

  1. Teaches you a lesson / you learn something
  2. Stops you heading down a wrong path
  3. Provides you or others with information

Teaches you a lesson / you learn something

I grew up in the North of England. Raised to be polite and respectful, especially to ‘elders’, I trusted everyone. Looking back now, perhaps a bit too much. I thought that no one would do bad things to intentionally hurt you. Unsurprisingly after being conned, guess what? I learnt that wasn’t the case. Perhaps I’d been a bit naive, but it’s only natural to judge others by your own standards and I don’t consider honesty a character flaw. 

We’ll never know if this chap was a bad egg or a good person or simply in a desperate situation making a very poor decision. Yet, learning and accepting that good and bad people can do bad things, that no matter how nice, how friendly, how much they belong to  a group of friends, if the opportunity or circumstance presents itself, you can leave yourself open to being taken advantage of.

As I move more into a more entrepreneurial role— with my side hustle and this blog—dealing with contracts and paperwork has become quite a common thing. I need to be quite savvy when it comes to removing the person and looking at the facts, figures and the risks. After that guy made me curl up in my bed and cry my eyes out each night for well over a half a year, I check and recheck every line of paperwork and conduct background checks on the people themselves.  

These lessons, learnt the hard way, have helped me in two other cases since our misfortune. I could have lost a lot of money if I hadn’t gone through this horrible experience. I have evolved into a new version of me, only through the pain of failure. 

Stops you heading down a wrong path

An idea is a brilliant thing right? It’s something that comes into your mind and then blossoms into something beautiful. However not all ideas turn out great. The use of hydrogen in airships was thought to be quite good, until of course that disastrous day resulting in the loss of life with the LZ 129 Hindenburg. 

When the con man came and went, at that point in my career, I had lost sight of engineering. I had been seduced by the world of sales and thought this would be a good new start for me. I had moved to Norway and maybe a different role in a different country was what I was supposed to be doing. I worked with the con man creating house build projects that we could build and sell. One week, I had believed in everything this man had to say that I was ready to quit my job and go and work on this marvelous future venture with him. In that very same week, we found out from another builder that everything he had been telling us was complete lies and we really ought to go and get a lawyer. I retracted my thought of resignation and luckily the two events happened in the right order.

Ultimately the whole ordeal led me to go back to engineering and kept it firmly in place as my head focus in life. This blog would not be being written if I had headed down the path of being a full time salesperson. That path was closed by failure. Looking back, it was the right decision.

Provides you or others with information

When a new thing comes to market, there is a distribution curve on who will buy this fancy new product. It’s a well-documented idea and can be implemented on who will buy a product, who will pick up and idea, or who will even wear a radically new design of dress. This theory is called the ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ by Everett Rogers. 

Upon release, individuals called the ‘Innovators’ will be the first to pick it up. They take the risk, experience the new fancy thing first—whether it works or not. Then the ‘early adopters’ then come the ‘early majority’. By now,some of the risk has been removed by the ‘innovators’. Finally the ‘late majority’ and the ‘laggards’ who have watched everyone else test this new product and proved its success, will pick it up and buy it. 

Rogers Everett – Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA.

By my wife and I failing, our whole community found out that this guy was a con man. People that would have used him to complete jobs now understood him as a crook and did not. We saved them from potential pain and upset. We were the (unfortunate) ‘innovators’ that gave the information to the rest of the people. 

The friend circle that this guy was in, thought he was an OK guy. Our big failure opened the box which exposed this guy to the world. People who had been caught up in his lies and cheats suddenly realised he was pulling the rug from underneath them. They managed to jump before themselves would fall. 

Much like watching a component failing on a competitor’s product and that giving you information to be better yourselves. Our failure helped our community cast off a bad apple and ensured no one was hurt like this again.

My regret looking back on this whole thing was how I reacted at the time. In our group of friends, I would moan, send messages and probably bring peoples spirits down with the negativity of ‘why me?’. 

People’s views on me changed through this process and they saw me moaning and complaining about what this horrible man did to us. I could see the once smiling people welcoming me to a party or an event, would soon scurry away, not wanting to have their energy reduced by our tales of woe.

But from the outside looking in, the situation was one that I didn’t check, therefore it’s kinda my fault, right? 

I wish I only knew about life’s failure and the benefits to them beforehand. In those times I didn’t have anyone to guide me, to be a mentor, or to stand by my side and teach me the things that I’m sharing with you now. I wish I took each day as it came and had a clear enough mind to say ‘hey, this has happened, ok there will be positives in the future, just keep moving forwards’. 

When you fail, or if you are looking back on a failure, I would suggest you maybe look at these 3 points and see how actually that failure helped or is helping you. You may not see it directly in the moment of failure, but a little down the road then it may become clearer. 

  1. Teaches you a lesson / you learn something
  2. Stops you heading down a wrong path
  3. Provides you or others with information

A quote I heard recently, about the story of Brian Banks. The football player was wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. His mentor, Jerome Johnson said. . .

“All you can control in life is how you respond to life [itself].” 

Failure is normal and sure enough it will happen. Just like a plot of the FSTE 100, you will still keep moving forwards and eventually the chart will be higher than before. You just need to react the best you can when failure happens.

Ben Stalsberg

Try sitting down and look back on your life at your biggest ‘failure’. Then try to understand why it happened and how now you are a better person for it. Send me a mail if you find this to be a positive experience.

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: Do you need to get debt free?

Money, it makes the world go round, but for the vast majority of us, we learn how to handle finances through trial and error—mistakes that can be super costly and affect our mental attitudes, relationships and future life plans.

By far the biggest change in my life has been my attitude towards money. I wasn’t given any real money advice by my parents. Neither was it on the curriculum in school or at university. Like most people, I had to figure it all out by myself. 

I distinctly remember the time it all went wrong. Aged 18, a friend in Canada and the words “just get a credit card, book the flights and pay it off later . . .”

I hadn’t been taught how to control my money, so I didn’t really stand a chance of becoming financially savvy when my parents, the banks, the car people, the house people etc. all wanted me to buy stuff now and pay for it all later. It was as standard and normal as an A4 piece of paper. 

The hardest realisation though, was the company I worked for, the people who paid me, dressed me and put food on the table each night actively, wanted me to have less, so that they could actually make more. 

When I realised that, I wanted, for want of a better expression, to stop the corporate bus and get off. In that singular moment, I knew the system was wrong. “Welcome to the real world, son” might be the reality, but that wasn’t a world I could live inside without some level of control, even if that is just something I’m telling myself.

What is the root cause of the problem?

Ask yourself the question – If you lost your job today, how many days can you live before you NEED money?, a website dedicated to financial topics, estimated in 2019 around 69% of Americans had less than $1000 saved away in a bank account.

The BBC reported that in the UK, “A survey by the Money Advice Service has found that four in 10 adults…do not have £500 or more in savings. Another by ING bank suggests 28% of UK adults have nothing at all in the bank.”

And the Independent states that “More than quarter of UK households have no emergency savings…”

How did we end up in a situation where it’s common for all of us to live on the edge of financial disaster?

I have come to understand the game we are playing. It’s a game where we live in a world where everybody wants to make money. Simple, right? But this becomes quite tricky when we start to look at the companies and financial institutions closest to us. 

At work, unions have been demolished, equal pay is a touchy subject and satisfying the shareholder is now a priority subject for every CEO.

It is clear, the less we earn, the more we seem to borrow and the more the banks will make. Is this the darker side of capitalism?

The documentary ‘Saving Capitalism’ featuring Robert B. Reich, the former Secretary of Labor to then Clinton administration, paints a very vivid picture of the situation. “The simultaneous rise of both the working poor and non-working rich offers further evidence that earnings no longer correlate with effort.”

Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few

It is recommended from articles such as ‘’ amongst others, that by the time you are 35, you should have twice your salary saved away. 35!? I ask: why the topic of personal finances was not firmly placed between Maths and PE on a Tuesday morning with Mrs Smith? 

As you can see, the harsh reality is that nobody is out there fighting for you to look after or  make more money – therefore you really have to do this stuff yourself.

When booking those flights to Canada, I didn’t realise then, how that one decision I was about to make, would be so disastrous for the next fifteen years of my life. 

Young and on reflection, not so clever, I got the credit card and had a wild time for two weeks; skiing, driving around in a Mk1 Golf convertible, playing board games and drinking a few too many lemonades.  

Upon my return, I was greeted by the mountain of debt I’d racked up… Of course I had neither the money, nor the discipline to pay the credit card off at once. I set it to pay off the minimum monthly balance, high on memories of my Great Canadian Adventure. The years passed by, loans and credit cards were a staple of my financial diet and the initial £1500 holiday cost closer to £2,900 once compound interest was taken into account.  It didn’t stop there. Over the years, thousands of pounds of hard-earned money, washing away in a blur of social situations, material possessions and long-forgotten drunken memories. It’s harder when there’s nothing to show for it all, eh?  

Fast forward ten years to Ben, aged 28 and I found myself sitting in a room with a group of people being trained to sail around the world. There was a girl around my age; cute, blonde, Norwegian, who looked at me in a way that buckled my knees forever. Another guy, also around my age, was as smart as they come with a niceness factor through the roof. At that time I could only afford to pay to sail halfway around the world. But  these two people, around the same age as me were doing the WHOLE thing. I thought if they are doing it all, why can’t I? 

I sat in the back of the class, I opened up my bank’s website and I applied for a £30,000 loan for the balance of the rest of the journey. Within an hour it was approved and within a day I had the funds sitting in my account. It was that easy. It was so easy in fact it was scary.

Returning to land a year later from the race, with around £30,000 loan, around £7000 in credit cards and £3000 loan from my parents. No job, no assets, no nothing. I knew it was time to make a change. A sickening feeling arose, I was now a slave to that debt. Shackles are something very few of us would choose to wear. Yet this is what we do mentally when we are indebted. We are shackled to the whims of an economy that is not designed to work in our favour. Freedom felt a long way off. 

The interesting thing about the people I met on the race was how savvy everyone seemed to be with money. They all ‘knew’ the money game and they all thought I was completely crazy in my approach to life on credit—I think ‘delinquent’ is the official phrase. Upon asking my close friends for advice to get out of this situation, one friend, Ryan, said he could help me. Looking back, he changed my life in a way bigger than I ever thought was possible,  recommending a book which altered my view on the financial world forever. 

The book was Dave Ramsey’s ‘Total Money Makeover’.

The book discusses a foolproof plan to become debt-free. You first save a small emergency fund, so that you can cut up all your credit cards and not worry about needing them. Then you pay off all your debts, excluding the mortgage. Boost your emergency fund to 3-6 months, then start to do things for the future. 

I was so passionate about doing this that I jumped in head first and dragged my wife along with me. I distinctly remember sitting in a hotel in Stavanger reading the page on cutting up credit cards and I went for it. I asked the receptionist to borrow a pair of scissors and cut up my credit cards there and then. It was terrifying and freeing all at the same time. Like jumping out of a plane, I didn’t really know where I was heading and how this was going to turn out, but I knew it was exciting! I carried one piece of credit card in my wallet until recently as a constant reminder of the days gone by. 

Becoming debt-free and being like the people on the boat was my whole focus in life. I wanted to be as carefree as they were. If they lost their jobs, it wasn’t stressful. Some of them were there just taking a year off anyway, just for fun. Most could live for months on the same lifestyle without needing to go to the banks for a loan. They were making money each day by just having money stashed away in various accounts, funds and portfolios. “What was this wizardry?” I thought.  

Well the truth is, it’s no more magic than driving a car, riding a bike or making a delicious chocolate cake. It’s just learning what to do and having the discipline to do it right.  

You set up a Plan, Do, Check, Action Process, as we talked about in a previous blog here. And you just get to work. 

It took me over three years to become debt-free and five years to be in the position that I’m in now. I have no debts apart from the mortgage, I have a 6 month emergency fund saved away and when I get my paycheck, 15% of it goes straight towards my retirement. If everything stayed the same, although I’m working to shorten the time of course…I should be a millionaire by the time I retire.

I’m not going to sit here and say it was, and is, easy though. You have to actively turn your back on a “normal” life and walk your own road. It takes months to pay off credit cards and years to pay off the cars. In all this time, you have to say “no” to anything fancy or fun. There are times when you stare at yourself in the mirror, wearing the same T-shirt you’ve owned for 8 years and think, what am I doing? I’m in the prime of my life, living on less money than when I was a student. ‘Buy now, pay later’ indeed.

You see all your mates, in fancy cars, having fun and going on holiday and you are sat, inside, watching the TV again. Of course, you wonder if they’ve been more money-savvy or if that enjoyment comes at a price they’ll pay later.

Debt repayment is  a long, hard, boring game and one in which you know will only take as long as the discipline you put in. One night out, means £50 less to pay off the car, which may push you into another month of debt-free mission living. There was a reason our grandparents called it ‘The never-never’. 

But it’s not forever. And it isn’t ALL doom-and-gloom. Funnily enough, this road looks more like the roads our grandparents would walk. Valuing shared neighbourly socials where everyone brings a bit, rather than flamboyant stag dos in random European cities. We’re all living well beyond our means, encouraged by colourful marketing campaigns. This new path shuns much of that stuff, seeing it for what it really is. 

Sometimes getting out of debt is a case of finding another tribe. One where symbols of status and wealth are not the priority. But just like the water principle, you have to input energy to dramatically change your ways. Then, after the transformation happens, you can walk a new path to a much better future than before.

To end, I want to leave you with a final thought, who is richer?

Person A and Person B earn the same money. Person A, has no savings, drives a Porsche on a loan, has a vacation home on a mortgage, dresses in designer clothes, eats out regularly and takes nice vacations all on credit cards. The disposable income after all the expenses and interest payments is around £30 each month.

Person B, saves £300 each month, drives a Volkswagen Golf, rents a vacation home for a week at a time, pays cash, dresses sensibly, eats out rarely but still takes nice vacations. All paid on cash not credit. The disposable income of this person is around £1000 each month. 

If both people lost their jobs, had their houses flooded, or had an accident in the family which needed large hospital bills. Who is the wealthier person and how much chaos would each person have in their lives if something went wrong?

You should never judge a book by its cover and no situation is more true than that with money. 

Ben Stalsberg

Find Dave Ramsey’s book here!,%C2%A36%2C000%20and%20%C2%A39%2C000.

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: Is your life organised?

If life feels a bit too chaotic and it’s threatening to overwhelm you, perhaps the PDCA Cycle can help.

It’s so easy to look at our lives and think of something to improve. I looked at my muffin tops this morning and thought, “jeez, I need to sort that out”, because nobody is perfect.

The difficulty is transforming the thought into an action. We need to move the static thought, one trapped in our mind that serves no purpose than to keep us up at night, into a moving project. As we know from Newton’s first Law – ‘An object will remain at rest or in uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force’.

Engineers in a production plant must move these static thoughts into movable projects all the time. But even the pros find it hard every once in a while. This is why we invented techniques to make it easy for ourselves. 

Take the iterative system called ‘Plan, Do, Check, Action’, or the ‘PDCA cycle’ for short. All credits fall, once  again, to Toyota. 

The PDCA Cycle is a technique that anyone can use right away. Whether it’s looking at your daily routine, analyzing your bank finances or looking at your retirement plans with your partner. It’s a method that sets up structure around tasks that could cause chaos, or end up neglected if not properly maintained – both of which, waste energy.


For most things we do in life, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, we plan. To get to work, to wash your hair or to make a cup of tea. A plan is just a series of individual events laid out and linked together. 

Put the water in the kettle, turn the kettle on, get a cup, get a tea bag, get some milk. . . You get the jist right. 

Alex Honholt, a professional American climber, climbs “Free Solo”. This is a way of climbing without safety ropes. With climbing ‘free solo’, one false move, or one misjudged step and that is most likely the end. 

He climbed up an impressive rock face called El Capitan in Yosemite, USA, in 2017. Seen as a major feat of accomplishment in the adventure sports world and in the documentary that followed his progress, you could certainly see why.

The rock face is shear granite with sections that look simply impossible to hold onto. Yet this man climbed up without any ropes, thousands of feet in a matter of hours. 

To complete his mission he did not just start one day, climbing without a rope. First, he completed many ‘roped climbs’ to create the perfect plan to make the ascent successfully. He split the whole climb into smaller and smaller sections and constantly practiced each of these sections until they were perfect. On those climbs he would often fall, but with falling, he would learn how to not fall again. 

When he was confident his plan would work, then and only then, he removed the ropes and climbed successfully to the top.

Therefore to look at a plan for a major event in your life, all we need to do is think of a series of singular events, write them down and see how we can link them all together. Imagine your dream is to sail around the world one day, a very high level plan could be . . .

Create a budget to release £500 per month for savings, keep a job, work for ten years whilst saving £500 per month, at the end of year ten, buy a boat and sail around the world. 

A big major life-changing plan, but one which still comprises ‘simple’ singular events. 


Doing is so hard, there is an entire section of the self-improvement book market dedicated to helping people to start ‘doing’. There’s Mel Robbins with her ‘5-Second Rule’ and ‘Think Less, Do More’ by Shaa Wasmund amongst some of the world’s best-sellers. 

We know from the ‘Water Principle’ that to move from one path to another, we need to input energy. Then we need to continue inputting energy until the change is complete.

As Newton said, an object will remain at rest or constant motion unless we apply an external force to it. Again, nothing will change, everything stays the same, unless we do something about it.


Checking how your plan is actually performing is the most vital part in any Continuous Improvement Process. It starts the feedback loop, which is so often missing in our personal lives. Without feedback; without stopping and analysing what we are doing and seeing if this matches what we set out to do. We simply do not know if what we are executing is going the way we want it to, or not. 

Everywhere in business and engineering, there are checks. Financial results each quarter, sales targets each month or production targets  each week.  We are always checking on what is happening to provide information to those in control. 

This is no different to ‘’, the business of your life. You are in control – regardless of how much chaos there is, you’re the CEO, the chief engineer, the fat cat, the top dog.. 

How is your budget this month? How is your resting heart rate tracking for your exercise routine? How much milk have you put in that cup of tea? 


Once you have ‘checked’ on the situation you have, then you can act. Action can be in the form of  giving yourself a massive high five as you are on track and killing your targets. Otherwise, it can be simply carrying on working on the plan, or doing something to change it, some kind of course correction—just as you might behind the wheel of a car if you’re veering into another lane.

As life is so full of changes, your goals may adjust with the changes in your life. It’s your life, you can change the destination if you want to. Making a new plan, based on new information, is just as important as acting upon an existing one.

Maybe you had a vacation this week, had a few too many mojitos and you’re not really on plan anymore. OK, no problem, that’s why we take vacations. The action will be to either adjust your targets or to put some more effort in down the gym and have a week of cleansing eating to get back on track—perhaps you need to reassess how realistic your goals are. There’s nothing more demotivating than setting yourself superhuman objectives. You’re amazing, but you’re not superhuman. It’s important to recognise your limitations and expect realistic outcomes. Pushing yourself is different to overwhelming yourself; the former should bring about a feeling of excitement, the latter only brings stress. 

The important point is that you start to change your way of working from a random way, into a structured way. Plan, Do, Check and Action.

I lived in a life full of chaos. I had no idea what was happening with my money, my dreams, my goals, I was lost. At work though, I was the complete opposite. I planned and I executed; I checked and I acted. 

When I broke down (more on that here), I was forced to review my own life and to figure out the solutions, it was only natural to start planning. 

I knew it was the most efficient way to work. Therefore, I took a spreadsheet and created pages for everything. I made a finance page, a fitness page, one for my dreams and goals and one for my career. 

For each section I tried to get a clear overview of where I was. I inputted all my finances and set budgets for the future. I looked long and hard at where I was in ‘life’ and where I really wanted to go. 

I needed to get fit, so I asked ‘What is a measure of fitness?’ I decided resting heart rate suited me. But it could be different for you; your weight, your waistline measurement, how well you sleep. I set a target for where I wanted it to be.

Each morning I would wake up and check my resting heart rate. Each day I was ‘checking in’ on my plan.

My resting heart rate would go down with regular exercise, but if I trained too much, was too stressed at work, or was starting to get sick it would go up, well-recognised in sports science. My Check would find a problem and my Action was to rest until it returned to a stable level again. 

The spreadsheet I created, named ‘Plan of Attack’ is still something I use today. I open it almost every morning and check in on where I am and where I am going. I change bits, I modify goals, I make new plans and set new budgets. It’s an ever evolving document and with this, I created a life of structure. I increased my negentropy, by simply stopping, planning, doing, checking and acting on almost everything. 

Now for me, it doesn’t matter how chaotic life can get. I have all the fundamental things written down and planned on a sheet. I can manage in whatever the weather and in all storms that come to shore. It’s an anchor point to keep me focused.

And it’s efficient. It takes energy to set up the process, but once it’s running, it takes little adjustments here and there to keep everything on track. Like spinning the plates which could fall to the floor. By planning how to keep them all a float and learning from the mistakes, soon you become the master.

If you need to gain some control of your life, why not try being like the engineers in Toyota?

If your life is a production facility with hundreds of components and processes running around inside your head. Sitting down and planning them out on paper or a spreadsheet could have some wonderful effects. 

Take some control of your life. Plan, Do, Check, Action.
Don’t believe me, check out this speech by Matthew McConaughey and see how he continually checks on his life as a continual improvement process. The video starts at 11:25 for this, but the whole thing is worth a watch one day.

Ben Stalsberg

Try and start with a super easy project and practice the PDCA cycle. See if you find it easy or not.

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: Why is it so difficult to change? Explaining the ‘Water Principle’.

You’re stuck in a rut, struggling to move forwards and you just don’t understand why? Well let me help you understand it better with a theory about water.

To make a change, we input energy to divert away from our current normal, to create a new normal. Some changes are immediate and significant, such as moving house — where we use a short sharp burst of intense energy for a sustainable period of time. 

Other changes though, are more incremental. You start with a project and you have a dedicated goal in mind, however that finish line may be way ahead in the future. It’s easy to start the change as the amount of energy required is lower than the level of excitement you may have. Gradually though, that constant continued effort over months and months without any perceivable results can end up being absolutely draining if not managed correctly. 

Most humans have experienced the vast valley of demotivation that so often comes with a long term project, and I’m sure we are all guilty of looking for the easy way out when faced with a dark and miserable climb. 

But with any long term project, the more you can ‘normalise’ the situation you are in, the more you can understand the ‘why’ and with this understanding comes a better chance of success.

Any seasoned marathon runner will tell you it’s going to hurt like hell at mile 18-20, therefore any beginner experiencing ‘the wall’ will understand it to be normal and it makes it easier for them to carry on.

Taking a more general goal of ‘Fitness’ – unless you’re shredding calories and limiting calorie intake unhealthily, you’ll not see the incremental changes that the increased exercise brings; until you try on an old pair of trousers that have been too snug for far too long.

In engineering, it’s quite common for inspiration to come from nature. Biomimicry is all around us —not least on our roads, where ‘Cat’s eyes’ reflect headlights to guide the route ahead. When we have problems in our lives, we can look to nature to provide a better understanding and this is why I want to talk about water. 


There is no easy way to explain this theory without a small section of dry science. So please hang in there and I’ll see you on the other side. 


Water, to change itself from a solid state, into a gaseous state, must first melt from ice into water and then evaporate from water into steam. 

You may remember from science class, we conduct an experiment where we take a lump of ice, heat in a pan with a bunsen burner, then measure the temperature over a given period of time. Typically that time limit is when the water is boiling like mad and the teacher gets a bit worried about over-eager kids wanting to stick their fingers in! 

The chart we drew up after the experiment would look something like this.

The temperature rises steadily, until the ice changes to water or the water changes to steam and in these transitions something strange happens.

During these transformation phases, the observed temperature on the chart shows only a flat, steady line. We can’t see that any change is happening from the outside. However, we know at an atomic level, energy is applied in the form of heat and the molecule’s natural vibration increases.

The inward heat energy is being converted into kinetic energy. 

And remember that the fundamental rule of science: energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms. 

The water molecules continue to vibrate until finally they have enough energy to break free from their bonds and end up in a new, more fluid condition. Then, and only then, the observed temperature will increase again.

The same occurs when cooling. When we cool steam, to water and finally to ice, the temperature will also flatline in the transition phases. This is due to the molecules receiving less heat energy and forming restrictive bonds again.  

These plateaus of change are proportional with time and energy. Therefore if change is a constant, to decrease the time, we need to add or remove more energy. 

OK we made it. . . good job.

Considering our life progression and everything in our lives – projects, relationships, health, fitness, confidence etc. water is a handy analogy. 

When we change, and we want to move paths, from our current normal to a new normal, we need to input energy.

When we are in that transitional phase, we need to keep inputting energy — even if we see no results — until finally our bonds are broken with our old path, and we can move onto the next one.  

The energy we are inputting is not being wasted. It is being used somewhere. If we are not seeing an obvious result on the outside, it is likely the energy is being used on the inside.

When we fail to maintain consistency in long-term changes, our energy towards our mission reduces. Just like water, then we can slip back along the plateau and form bonds again to lower elements—AKA our original bad habits.

When times have been tough in my life, the one constant that has kept me motivated is the belief that the more energy I put into the system, the better the result.

I stumbled onto the ‘water principle’ idea when talking with a friend who was struggling to find his feet with his business. 

It was clear he was demotivated and a bit down in the dumps. It was only natural to try and think of a way to help his situation. We all say to our friends, “don’t give up” in times like these. However, without some context behind it, I felt it was a bit of an empty statement. Just like telling your mate who has split up with their partner, “It’ll get better soon”, you know that’s not the full story.. It’s going to be hell for 90 days as they ride the emotional rollercoaster of missing messages, bittersweet memories, tunes and smells that spark sadness—all the fun that comes with heartbreak.

I had watched a YouTube video on professional CrossFit athletes and was fascinated with the coaches explanation of ‘plateaus’. He described it as swimming under ice. At some point you won’t be able to get up for air. The only way to break through the ice is with technique. He would coach his athletes to actively stop chasing big weights, or top scores on the board (a habit formed from childhood) and focus only on the way they were moving.

The parallels between my friend, the athletes and the way water reacts just seem to fit together quite nicely. 

I started to think about all the times that I had found it hard and no matter how much energy I was putting in, nothing seemed like it was moving forwards.

Projects at work, becoming debt free, moving to a foreign country. All these projects which took so much energy and were completely demotivating in the heat of the battle. They all started to move when I had freed myself from bad habits, poor discipline or finally just accepted the situation I was in. 

It was only when I had used energy to break free from the bonds from the past, that I was set free for the future. 

“Don’t give up” with more background no longer seems as empty. 

We all know the expression ‘no pain, no gain’. If the only ‘pain’ you’re experiencing is the discomfort of not being able to visibly see results, perhaps you need to ask yourself how much you want the change?

But be careful. As I will discuss next week, if you are going to use your precious energy on change, it should be completed as efficiently as possible. The Plan, Do, Check, Action, method, can help you laser focus that energy to great success.  

Ben Stalsberg

Try to think of a time where you were struggling to change. What can you learn from that?

Heating Curve for Water

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

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