The Greek Stoics and the Feelings Barometer

by Christos Tsolkas

Some years ago, struggling to manage my emotions and their corresponding feelings* in daily life, I invented a tool I called the Feelings Barometer. It proved to be a great help navigating ups and

downs and living life to the max.

At the time, I had a senior operational role in a large organization with responsibility for several hundred people. I was very passionate about my work and every day was filled with new possibilities. Ideas were practically falling from the sky.

Each day started great. My commute was about 45 minutes. I was always pumped with energy, and I used my time in the car to call customers and colleages for short briefings. Hitting the office felt great, too. Unlike many people, I was profoundly happy to arrive at work.

Inevitably, things always turned a bit south by midday. The afternoon would have more ups and downs. And the day would end in a funk, with me feeling knocked down, deflated, stressed out and often overwhelmed.

Why did every day start with a bang and end with a whimper**?

An Emotional Audit

I decided to take very deliberate notice of whenever my mood changed even a little. In Greece, sometimes people who live next to the sea, especially oldtimer seamen, have barometers as well as thermometers in their homes. The barometers, which measure pressure changes in the atmosphere, can predict when bad weather and storms are imminent. Watching my personal “Feelings Barometer” I could see when my own emotions were headed toward stormy weather.

pic by Ben Crowe



This helped me spot the triggers. Noticing a minor change in mood, I would take a pit stop and reflect. What was different? Why had my mood changed? I would realize there was almost always a cause. Maybe, at 10:15 that morning, my boss had called me and asked for something that that took me off course. Or maybe, at 1:22 that afternoon, a colleague had spoken rudely in a meeting and disrupted a good brainstorming session. Or, at 4:30, a junior report showed up in my office to tell me that a customer was threatening to stop working with us.

Becoming aware of these causes helped me think about them more objectively. This may seem obvious but I believe it is very easy, when we are wrapped up in life, to take “bad things” very personally.

Lowering the Pressure Gauge

Instead, just by thinking about the causes of my stress at specific moments for a few seconds, I found I was able to reduce their impact by 50%. I realized, they weren’t the end of the world. They weren’t often my fault.

If I spent another minute or so, and went a little deeper, I could reduce that impact by another 30%. All it took was realizing, deep inside, that there was always something I could do about those stressful things. And, because of their frequency, it was also clear that they were inevitable. I couldn’t prevent them but I could manage them.

                        pic by shinwon

After that, the stress wasn’t completely gone. It still hovered at about 20% but I would save that for later, if I felt it was important enough, to devote more dedicated time for deeper reflection.

Greek Stoics and American Self Help Gurus

This was the best tool I ever found for restoring a good mood. It was like magic. By mapping my emotional ups and downs, targeting the dips and focusing on them, I almost always felt happy, energized and optimistic again in a snap. I was saying YES!

While thinking about this approach to write this post, I came across a Ted Talk by Tim Ferriss, the host of a popular podcast and the author of the Four Hour Work Week.

                                                                          Timothy Ferriss

I used my Feelings Barometer to manage micro-emotions but Ferris described a similar tactic for managing bigger feelings, including dark depression and suicidal tendencies. He counsels people to define their fears instead of their goals and reminded me of the power of the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism which was founded by Zeno of Citium (Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς) in Athens where I grew up.

As Ferriss puts it, stoicism is about “training yourself to separate what you can control from what you cannot control, and then doing exercises to focus exclusively on the former. This decreases emotional reactivity, which can be a superpower.”

Ferriss’s exercises are worth trying. He suggests writing down a series of columns that help you define your fears, recognize that they can be prevented and repaired, understand the benefits of doing something about them, and, more importantly, the costs of not doing something.

For an even simpler tool for managing the minor ups and downs of life that can have a big impact, try my Feelings Barometer.

It comes with a money back guarantee.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself,

but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
― Marcus AureliusMeditations





Emotions are lower level responses occurring in the subcortical regions of the brain, the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, creating biochemical reactions in your body altering your physical state. They originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments.

Feelings originate in the neocortical regions of the brain, are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are subjective being influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. A feeling is the mental portrayal of what is going on in your body when you have an emotion and is the byproduct of your brain perceiving and assigning meaning to the emotion.

** This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The Hollow Men, T.S. Elliot, 1925

Credit bErNaDeTtE tEvEs

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