Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer
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How Do You Think You Feel?
(Republished by Request)


Bill Frayer 2010Is this you? You come down to visit Mexico and, after just a few days, you decide to buy a house. You may have seen the house once. You are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, unfamiliar with the construction methods here, and you’ve only recently met the realtor.  You’re not insane.  In your previous life, you probably never made such a big decision so quickly. So why would you put your caution on the shelf and do this? If this is you, you are certainly not alone.  

Chances are, your emotions are trumping your clear thinking.  You’ve come down to check out the Lake Chapala region, found it very appealing, and, even though you know it is probably not the best idea, you take the plunge. You may have been blinded by your enthusiasm with living in Mexico or you may be fearful that you’ll never get such an opportunity again. Of course, you may be lucky. The house may be perfectly fine, and you may have made a sound decision. Or, you may find that, after living in the house, it is not what you really want or that the house has many problems.   

Emotions are very different from logical thoughts. Feelings like excitement, fear, love, pity, impatience, despair, greed, and anger can overwhelm good judgment and literally make it impossible to think clearly. We all have emotions. They’re an essential part of living. In fact, help make living worthwhile. Love makes our relationships rich; fear keeps us safe from harm; and anger is a natural response to injustice.  Problems occur when we have difficulty realizing that our feelings are indeed preventing our ability to think clearly. It’s important to try to clearly distinguish between our conscious thoughts and our feelings.  

When we fail to do this, we can become confused and overwhelmed by our feelings. A good example of this is when we become angry at someone. The intensity of our anger can overwhelm our rational thinking, and we are apt to say something we later wish we had not said!  We may buy something on impulse that we cannot afford. Or we may avoid doing something rational and necessary, like getting a medical test, because we are afraid of what the results may be.   

So how can we avoid being dominated by our emotions? The first step is to recognize when we are feeling strong emotions. This awareness is called metacognition: being aware of our thinking process. Good thinkers practice metacognition when they feel strong emotions.  A woman who becomes very angry with a friend realizes her strong emotion and says to herself, “I am feeling very angry, and I can’t deal with this situation now.  I need some time to cool off.” In fact, people who experience strong emotions at critical times almost always benefit from taking some time to let their emotions cool. This tends to let their clear thinking kick in.  This is why it’s generally a good idea to take extra time to make important decisions.  

An important decision is one which could have great consequences if you make a poor judgment.  Any decision involving spending lots of money, disrupting people’s lives, or affecting your safety or health could fall into this category.  

Those of us who have decided to live as expatriates in Mexico have to make many important decisions. We are bringing a lifetime of experience to our new lives here. We need to think clearly about whether it would be better for us to buy a home with our nest egg or to postpone such a decision and rent a home here. We need to learn how to live on less money and to manage our finances so we don’t run short (our emotions may urge us to eat out more than we can afford to!) We have to figure out how to plan for future health crises even though our emotions may tell us not to worry. And, of course, leaving our families behind and moving here may have created conflicting emotions for us, and we have to decide how to deal with these new realities.  

It’s easier to live happily if we are able to recognize that we are complex beings who rely on both our thoughts and our feelings to function well. The trick is in learning to keep track of which is which.


Bill Frayer




Column: Uncommon Common Sense




Bill Frayer lived all of his adult life in Maine until moving to Mexico in 2007.  He had a long career teaching writing, critical thinking, and communication at the community college and university level.  He has published a critical thinking textbook and four volumes of poetry.  Stirring up trouble with his column for the last eight years, he enjoys hearing from those who have strong opinions about what he writes.  Now a snowbird back in Maine, he enjoys playing blues, eating lobster, and fishing with his granddaughter.  In Ajijic he enjoys leading TED talks at LCS and talking poetry with his fellow poets.




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