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. LiveScience.com 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 Kornferry.com, 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 forbes.com, 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

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


https://www.livescience.com/47499-what-is-engineering.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2019/01/09/workplace-trend-stress-is-on-the-rise/

https://www.kornferry.com/insights/articles/workplace-stress-motivation

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2019/06/02/the-burnout-club-now-considered-a-disease-with-a-membership-price-you-dont-want-to-pay-for-success/#19f6b55a37ab


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