Common Sense

Posted on March 13, 2017 by Robert Ringer


An interviewer once asked Dr. Phil if it bothered him that so many critics accused him of oversimplification. He responded that it didn’t bother him at all. He even volunteered that one fellow had recently accused him of saying things that were really nothing more than common sense — to which Dr. Phil responded, “Golly, that’s great. Do you mind if I use it as a testimonial?”

I have to give Dr. Phil a 10 on that one. And the nice thing about it is that it was true. The greatest teachers have a knack for demystifying complex issues by applying common sense to them. It goes without saying that Paul Ryan and his congressional allies who have been trying so hard to explain the problems involved in replacing Obamacare are most decidedly not good teachers, because most of the public has no idea what they’re talking about.

So, just what is common sense? A good technical definition of common sense is “sound judgment that is not based on specialized knowledge.” In other words, you don’t need to be a Ph.D. to exercise common sense. It’s a trait you develop through purposeful awareness and habit. I should also add that in order to be aware and to develop habits requires self-discipline, the self-discipline to do the right thing rather than doing what makes you feel good in the present moment.

Common sense is closely aligned with wisdom, whereas an academic understanding of specific areas of life is aligned with knowledge. In simpler terms, what common sense boils down to is a sound understanding of how life works. This requires that a person learn through his experiences and not delude himself about the causes that lead to his consequences.

Having said this, I believe that most people have a reasonably good understanding of the right thing to do in any given situation. In other words, they know the difference between responsible and irresponsible actions. The problem, however, is that too many of these same people — at the moment of truth — have a habit of ignoring their intellect and instead acting on emotion, which signifies a lack of self-discipline.

I can’t stress it enough: All the common sense in the world is useless if one doesn’t have the self-discipline to apply it. From whence comes the old adage “You have to walk the talk.”

Children — especially teenagers — have a tendency to act on emotion more often than most adults. But teenagers have an excuse: They’re short on experience. With each passing year, an adult has more and more experience under his belt, and thus less and less justification for acting on impulse.

In fact, a good definition of maturity is the willingness to forego instant gratification. At some point in time, an adult — to be successful — must learn through his experiences or be prepared to pay a heavy price throughout life. Thus, it all gets down to experience, the wisdom one takes away from his experiences, and having the self-discipline to apply that wisdom to other situations (association).

When I watch the daily news, it amazes me how many sad, even tragic, stories are a result of people’s common sense taking a leave of absence when they most need it. I always try to focus on the common-sense angle of these stories and mentally file away the lessons I learn from them.

My hope is that by doing so I will be able to avoid similar lack-of-common-sense mistakes in my own life. As a result, I often find myself thinking of these mistakes at critical moments. Learning is one of the most wonderful aspects of life, but it doesn’t count for much if you don’t apply what you’ve learned to real-life situations. Many people who appear to lack common sense simply fail to apply what they already know.

It’s important to understand that common sense is not something you inherit at birth. Like most traits, anyone can acquire common sense and improve upon it every day of his life.

One of the reasons I became so enamored with Albert Einstein’s quote “Nothing happens until something moves” is because it’s the epitome of common sense. Tens of millions of people seem to be waiting around for something good to happen in their lives, while expending enormous amounts of energy complaining about their “bad luck.” The term most commonly associated with this is victimization, a mind-set that has become an epidemic over the past 50 years.

As I have written about so often, most people tend to miss the most obvious things when it comes to success in any area of life. While in search of the magic formula for success, they mistakenly overlook the importance of something as simple as common sense. I suggest you forget the magic formula and simply focus on applying common sense in all situations.

Demonstrating common sense on a consistent basis doesn’t guarantee success, but a lack of it can come pretty close to guaranteeing failure. Above all, remember that consistently deferring to your common sense before making decisions is nothing more than a habit, and, fortunately, all habits can be learned by anyone who brings willingness to the game of life and couples it with consistent self-discipline.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

45 responses to “Common Sense”

  1. John Stuart Mill observed that "most people sacrifice the ultimate good for the immediate pleasure."

  2. Paul F Carter says:

    It always amazes me how my "educated" friends have so little common sense.

    • Lynne says:

      So true. One of the most successful businessmen I knew dropped out of high school, and I know lots of folks with masters degrees who can't make a living. My father always said that common sense is perhaps the rarest commodity in the universe.

      • Kika68 says:

        I absolutely agree. It is the rarest commodity in the universe. You listen to these snowflake, libertard crybabies and you see no common sense whatsoever. You wonder how they even know how to breathe let alone how they got this far in life without common sense. You really got to feel sorry for them. They are the blind, wandering in the dark.

    • Johnny Twosheds says:

      I've heard it said that advanced education is often an inoculation against common sense. Surrounded by Ivory Tower, protected by tenure, there are absolutely no consequences for advancing bizarre and unworkable theories dreamed up by obscure scholars. Whenever politicians act on these nonsensical fantasies, the every day person who must rely on practical common sense pays the price, and he or she pays dearly for it! But alas, the dolts, dumb-asses and dead-weights of society still make up a majority of the voters; hence, the vile, vulgar and vulture-like politicians remain, to continue doing damage to whatever is decent and good remaining in the USA.

      • Jim Hallett says:

        Having gone to what is considered an "elite" university, I can concur that it took me awhile to return to my innate common sense, after being "inoculated" by academia. I still, as Robert says, "forget to apply what I already know" in some cases and regret it later. Life is not easy, but it is SIMPLE, and our task is to go for the simple in almost every case (Occam's Razor). The politicians vacate common sense ON PURPOSE to deceive the sheeple (so too, the media liars), but the clearest indication you are utilizing common sense is if you have created a life of happiness for yourself, since so many fail in this regard.

    • Ivan says:

      Then there are also those in government. And we can't forget the new graduates who think the world owes them.

  3. I'm always saying common sense is not commonly practiced.

  4. TheLookOut says:

    Great article RR. Common sense is the foundation of a successful life.
    Without it, and the discipline to live by it as you have stated guarantees
    failure. Common sense as practiced by far too many is not common.

  5. Jean says:

    So many of today's "isms" are really evidence of a lack of common sense. For example, I was speaking with an African American woman on the telephone, trying to get her name and address for a follow up call. She was eating while she was speaking, and had a rather unusual name. But….. "racism" to ask her to please spell her name.

    A female co-worker was overlooked for a promotion. She repeatedly missed work due to her then teenage sons' problems with the law among other things. When she was at work, she did just enough to be visible, and didn't make any effort to contribute to departmental or corporate goals. A man with more experience and a resume of accomplishments was hired as department head. She was later fired. But….. "sexism… and proof that there's an "old boys' network" in business."

    One reason the left is able to grab and maintain power is that common sense isn't all that common. Neither is the maturity to accept responsibility for situations one has created.

  6. jack robinette says:

    Great, common sense in writing about common sense. In many situations "common sense ain't common any more.

  7. Jurgy says:

    I have no doubt that the vast majority of problems people have are based in their emotions.

    • janco12 says:

      Agreed. To clarify; the vast majority of problems that people have is that they are human, emotions and all! Hang on Jurgy, are you thinking of Mr Spock?

  8. Frank Candy says:

    This is another one of your master pieces Robert. Keep up the great work Sir. You are truly one in a million Frank Candy

  9. larajf says:

    I see so many people who are unhappy because of the feelings they chose. I had an interesting talk with my 18 year old daughter this weekend.
    Me: Happiness is a choice. No one can make you happy.
    Her: But don't I make you happy?
    Me: Of course. Being around you is a pleasant thing and I'm happy.
    (then I paused….she needed the reassurance)

    Me: You need to realize that you should be happy without it needing to be another person who causes it. Because that would mean the other person could make you unhappy. So it's best to be in control of your own thoughts and emotions.

    I'll reiterate this randomly. Hopefully it will stick. Her bff was right there listening in as well.
    Rolling out common sense one day at a time :)

  10. Scott theczech says:

    Knowledge is to be sought, common sense is a thing to be practiced and applied, wisdom should be valued and cherished.

  11. sixxfingers says:

    If schools were teaching this as early as possible, and students were given frequent reminders of this important lesson, this country would be a lot better off.

    When my kids were little they got good grades which shows an ability to learn, but would often make really dumb choices in things not school related. So I would constantly remind them "Don't Be Book Smart And Common Sense Stupid!"

  12. Bob says:

    Wonderful! I sure would like for you to write MORE on common sense. Maybe you can help the few in the world who are willing to learn and apply your wisdom.

  13. Mike B says:

    Growing up I would always read Dear Abby and Ann Landers. They always provided great lessons on what not to do! Thanks for another great article.

  14. Rick G says:

    Nowadays, common sense doesn't appear to be very common. Just look around you everywhere!

  15. edda says:

    AHA! Self-discipline! Yes! Doing what feels good in the present moment – NOT! Acting on emotion – NOT! But immediate self-gratification as inspired and taught via our celebrity culture, schools, liberal and progressive thinkers has been: 'do what feels good'. That's been the mantra well over 60 years. Common sense is just another sound judgment kicked to the dust heap of history.

  16. Ivan says:

    Don't know who said it or the exact words. "To know and not to act is the same as not knowing". Anyways it was along those lines, I personally see that it also requires that push and discipline to take the right action.

  17. Paul Herring says:

    Many laws in your country and in ours aren't made on the basis of common sense. They seem to be arbitrary and are made by people who haven't been down there in the trenches with those who have to live by the same laws.

    Common sense, apart from what's been discussed above, seems to be the ability to read a situation and act accordingly. To respond rather than to react. Zig Ziglar discussed the differences between those and I agree with him.

    Finally, it seems to be the hallmark of mature people. Of those who are neither too rigid, nor too laissez-faire, but who get the job done or get on with it in spite of the challenges.

  18. Reality Seeker says:

    On the other hand, Ayn Rand pointed out that collectivism is much simpler to explain to the ignorant masses than rational selfishness. It's very easy to explain to the dumb-shits, " vote for me, and I'll provide a free education, medical care, EBT cards, housing, phones and a sex change…." Dumb-shits eat that smelly fish bait up hook, line and sinker…

    Free markets punish those who cannot adapt and compete with other highly competitive, creative and disciplined individuals.. And the ignorant masses don't like to be punished for anything. Not even a little bit. It's much easier to vote than to compete…. And that's why America transmogrified into amerika, because the lazy dumb-shits far outnumber the go getters….

    Another reason why Western Civilization is going to shortly collapse is women were granted the right to vote….. Stefan Molyneux explains this fact well ( even a dumb-shit can understand) in one of his latest releases: " What pisses me off about Western Civilization"… If Ayn Rand was the rule, and not the exception, Western Civilization would be booming…

    • Stephan F says:

      " …one reason why Western Civilization is going to shortly collapse is women were granted the right to vote."

      Absolutely and unquestionably true, esp. in these trendy times of modern feminism. However, we both know & understand that this is not just a unilateral problem of gender. The establishment of women's voting rights in 1920 merely compounded the fundamental problem that began way before the women's suffrage movement.

      Human beings have always sought to find an easy way out from having to deal with life's struggles & challenges since day 1, and they found their answer to accomplish this by turning to govt and adopting the "something for nothing" frame of mind. And the contemporary feminist today has jumped on that movement like a Chucky Schumer promise to increase the minimum wage. They have refined & packaged the means to obtain a free ride through life like no other group has in the past.

      Like a fine vintner who processes and ages his wine with an artists touch, modern feminists play their liberal political puppets like a priceless Romanian violin. No longer does the modern woman need to rely on the male husband for support. They have uncle Sam for that. By adding the Marxist playbook to their repertoire, they have established themselves as a political force to be reckoned with and have eliminated the need & desire for male spousal guidance and companionship. They can have it all now, and without any help from some Neanderthal male by their side holding their hand.

      About the only thing I can say to that is: best of luck ladies, you're going to need it.

      • Reality Seeker says:

        " one reason" among many…. Yes, we totally agree.

        Moreover, regarding "common sense" I have to agree with Ludwig von Mises that common sense only advances civilation so far. Mises explained ever so adroitly how both common and uncommon sense, intellectual cognition and the conceptual capacity of man was necessary to propel civilization forward away from the mindless primitive. And what was needed most then — and now — is uncommon sense.

        If you ask me, civilization is breaking down, not withstanding the scientific and technological breakthroughs… Humankind has a few things going for it. The tens of thousands of scientists are the real heros — not the firemen, soldiers, cops and first responders… The first responders solve no long term problems … They only put out fires….

        The other thing humankind has going for it is philosophers like Molyneux and rebels like Alex Jones. It's actually amazing how much influence one man can exert on the masses. And I see a growing army of rebels and a growing brain trust of erudite libertarian type mavericks.

        Finally, I see the ignorant masses fracturing and turning against each other in a swamp of identity politics. This shall fracture Washington. I can actually see the day when violence breaks out between congressmen. Civil war happens every now and then, and Europe, first, then the US is moving closer to the day when multiculturalism takes a bloodbath….

        • Reality Seeker says:

          Drudge Report:. Alex Jones challenges Alec Baldwin to a bare kunckles​ fight.

          Like I said: buy gold. Buy silver. Buy gunpowder. And have faith….

          And remember, if the power grid goes down permanently from some damn CIA worm or virus, we then go back to a patriarchal system. When the lights go out it won't be the women spilling the blood or giving the battle commands…

    • Paul Herring says:

      You're right about 'Western Civilization is going to collapse shortly', Reality Seeker. However, it isn't only Western Civilization, but all societies which will. And collapse isn't quite the right word. They will be destroyed if we believe what the Bible says, because humankind has chosen to live independently of its Maker, God. In that book, what it says at Jeremiah 10.:23 makes it plain that it was never God's purpose for man to govern himself independent of his Creator's guidance. Here's what it says there from the New Life Version (modern English):"O Lord, I know that a man’s way is not known by himself. It is not in man to lead his own steps."
      It's no surprise then that we're in the mess we are because governments by and large have ignored this basic fact.

      Politics of all flavours have governed for a long time now. All this has proven that we simply can't govern ourselves successfully – human governments can't bring benefits to all earth's inhabitants.

      Still, we aren't left in the lurch. The Bible speaks also of a better way which is reasonable, believable, feasible and above all, it will happen whether we choose to pin our hopes on it or not.

      • Reality Seeker says:

        In the past, I've been critical of believers in God for various reasons. In my extensive study I've learned that for two-thousand years Christians have been thinking that any day Jesus Christ would reappear and fulfill His promise of The Second Coming. Basically, for two thousand years at least some Christians have been waiting… and waiting and waiting…. If you don't believe me just spend some time researching the flood of Christians who fled to the New World in the 15, 16, and 1700s. Take the time and read their letters and books.

        The founder of Philadelphia, William Penn, was one of those individuals who escaped to the new world to wait for The Second Coming. Dozens of other groups followed….. From Wikipedia:.

        A member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) who had faced religious persecution, Penn envisioned his colony as a place where many groups of people could live together and worship freely. Mennonites, Amish, Moravians and Pietists moved to the area during the 17th century. By the mid-18th century, Quakers and the English had become a minority in the colony as other ethnic groups such as the Welsh, Scots, Finns, African slaves, Irish, and Germans moved to the city.[2] Lutherans established places of worship as early as the 1720s and in 1748, led by Henry Muhlenberg, founded the Pennsylvania Ministerium.[3] In 1734 followers of what would become the Schwenkfelder Church arrived in Philadelphia and settled in the region.[4] The first American Presbytery was founded in 1706 in Philadelphia and a year later in September 1707 the Philadelphia Baptist Association was founded, the oldest Baptist association in the United States.[5] The city's first Catholic chapel was built in 1733 and the city's first recorded practicing Jew, Nathan Levy, arrived as early as 1735.[6]…..

        All of the above groups and more waited, waited and waited for The Second Coming.. Many of them thought they saw the signs of Matthew Chapter 24 being fulfilled. Many, including Penn, accused the Catholic Church of being the "Great Harlot"…. Penn himself actually wrote that during a time when it could have cost him his life — and it almost did…

        In Penn's city is where the modern-day Jehovah's Witnesses were born…. They, too, like the others, have been waiting. And frankly, I hope Jehovah God doesn't keep them waiting too long, because about eight million Jehovah's Witnesses now believe that any day now Armageddon is going to happen and Christ's Second Coming is heavenly one which happened in 1914…

        I'm not mocking Jehovah's Witnesses, nor am I even critical of them. I'm merely pointing out that many fine men and women have died waiting throughout the past two thousand years…. This doesn't mean that Jesus will end up being a no-show, but, rather, I think He shall show Himself in a time and manner that surprises 99% of Christians including, perhaps, the eight million Jehovah's Witnesses who are currently active and the uncounted millions who are not….

        Having articulated all of the above…. I still say buy gold. Buy silver. Buy gunpowder. And have faith… And the most important of these is Faith….

        May Jehovah your God be with you, Mr. Paul Herring.

        • Paul Herring says:

          Thanks for your pleasant and lengthy response, Reality Seeker – and your good wishes. Yes, we've been waiting a long time now, even in my own case. But what's the alternative? Not much good out there and plenty of murkiness.

          Take care yourself and yes, look to the future (not sure about 'buying gunpowder' tho!)

        • Jose Jackson says:

          A big problem I have with Christianity is that many members and the church itself have the ability to collect a huge number of chips, yet are not being true to the altruism of eradicating poverty and making sure folks have a roof over their head.

          How many churches open their doors to the poor to have a place to stay at night? Some do, but I wonder why all are not open for that purpose. Seems more of a club atmosphere and not much for helping the needy become unneedy and strive to self sufficiency.

          • Paul Herring says:

            It isn't Christianity per se which is at fault, Jose. It's the Churches – Christendom. From Constantine's day it's taken the place of Biblical Christianity – the weeds among the wheat – and has completely overgrown the wheat – Biblical Christianity. And what a horrible wake it's left: the Crusades, the unspeakable Inquisition and the Church-supported conquest of one nation against another.

            It hasn't changed either. How many of the Churches speak out against what's popular but what isn't acceptable to the God of the Bible? A few brave souls, but not too many – they don't want to get howled down or to appear out of step with modern thinking. They get down in the muddy puddle and try to save those there rather than pull them out from clean, dry, ground.

            So it's no surprise that Christendom has lost its way. It has long since lost the favour of Jehovah and the one who instituted Christianity, Jesus. The Bible is clear in its condemnation of false religion, including Christendom, Islam and any which profess faith in God, but don't live by his teachings that an accounting for this is not far away. Collectively, the Bible calls these Babylon the Great and that expression is mentioned several times in Revelation chapter 18.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      Just listened to this 16-minute podcast from Stefan (I am subscribed to his Youtube channel to help keep my sanity!), and he so rightly points out that our challenge or crisis is due to the immorality of our actions, and not all the side issues (bread and circuses) pushed by govt. whores and media presstitutes. Collectivism is so much easier because it does NOT require personal responsibility, and why this stinkin' thinkin' has gained such a strong foothold. What nobody seems to realize is that you run out of "other peoples' money" to support this pipedream.

  19. TN Ray says:

    Einstein's quote "Nothing happens untill something moves"…the epitome of common sense. Great observation connecting it to the victimization mentality. Seemingly millions of "victims" are awaiting utopia to arrive when the right leader will be elected to lead us to the promised land. Problem is that's not reality. If you want something to happen, you have to make it happen. Sadly, many are profiting off perpetuating the victim mentality. The Democratic Party, and many "community organizers" come to mind.

  20. ssz says:

    The 17th century writer and philosopher, Voltaire, summarized what had been evident for centuries and will probably be the case forever – "Common sense is not so common."

  21. Kaizen says:

    Robert, a really uplifting post.
    Where has common sense gone? It truly amazes me that if our supposed learned leaders of this planet thought through the implications of their actions, BEFORE the actions were taken, the vast majority of the actions would NOT be taken.

    The definition of common sense that has stuck with me for decades is:
    " Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do."

  22. Ellis Baxter says:

    Well, so… being old changes one's view of the world, that is where I am. Is reason not a two fold question? Common Sense as opposed to over complication of the issue? If so, then is it really not a question of addressing the questions related to the Human Condition: Ideology vs. Pragmatism ? The democrat party is a cult based on a set of theories; that end with the elites of that party being in total control. Therefore to maintain that elite status the elites must complex the issue. Example is the theory 'Man Made Climate Change' [where there is not a scintilla of admissible evidence to support the theory] that said I offered a solution that if man made climate change were to be real it could be solved with the least amount of costs and disruption to the social eco system. Obama spent a huge amount of money to support windmills and solar companies, provided that they had given large sums to his campaign, I proposed to create jobs for 50,000 citizens to plant and maintain 400,000,000 trees. The theory of the 'change' solved. No damage to the environment at all. No one listens. Because the goal of Man Made Climate Change is for the Elites to be in total control… The common sense cries for the simple none destructive path. On one hand you have a self serving theory [are not they all?] and the common sense solution that does no damage ..

  23. rojimowi says:

    ''Unforeseen consequences''. If you don't know the consequences of an action. Don't commit the action.
    How many people do you know who have traded a ''moment'' of pleasure for a lifetime of misery.

    Great essay.


  24. JungianINTP says:

    This scribbler never uses that term,

    "common sense," because it has

    become a bit contaminated with

    negativity: ignorance (( see first

    paragraph, where Dr Phil's questioner

    thought to accuse him of JUST

    using common sense.

    Always say or write :

    "LOGICAL ( or rational ) SENSE".

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