Aug. 22, 2021

Permission to Feel by Professor Marc Brackett: how to be a RULER of your emotions for better health

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About the author

Marc Brackett, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a Professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University.

As a researcher for over 20 years, Brackett has focused on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in learning, decision making, creativity, relationships, health, and performance. He has published 125 scholarly articles and received numerous awards and accolades for his work in this area. He also consults regularly with corporations, such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google on integrating the principles of emotional intelligence into employee training and product design. Most recently, he co-founded Oji Life Lab, a corporate learning firm that develops innovative digital learning systems on emotional intelligence.

Brackett’s mission is to educate the world about the value of emotions and the skills associated with using them wisely. “I want everyone to become an emotion scientist”, he says. “We need to be curious explorers of our own and others’ emotions so they can help us achieve our goals and improve our lives.”


About the book

The mental wellbeing of children and adults is shockingly poor. Marc Brackett, author of PERMISSION TO FEEL, knows why. And he knows what we can do.

This book combines rigour, science, passion and inspiration in equal parts. Too many children and adults are suffering; they are ashamed of their feelings and emotionally unskilled, but they don’t have to be. Marc Brackett’s life mission is to reverse this course, and this book can show you how.



Big idea #1 — Be an emotion scientist

There is a science to understanding emotion. Yes, some of us may have previously (or may still) think it’s all just the fluffy stuff or it’s nonsense. But with the right skills we can uncover that we can learn to understand and appropriately respond to our own, and other people’s, emotions and see emotions as information. That information when taken with a scientific mindset, gives us something to consider or to analyse, especially noticing when certain emotions arise more than others.

Chronic stress impacts learning, processing memory and overall health. So knowing how we feel, and maybe helping others understand how they feel, has bigger implications in life too.

And yes, these skills are best learned young, but it’s better late than never. Marc and his late Uncle Marvin tried to bring these skills to schools in the late 90s, but failed. Not because the kids couldn’t handle it or couldn’t have those conversations, but because the teachers (the adults in the room) couldn’t, and wouldn’t see the importance of it. They weren’t equipped to handle their own emotions, and therefore were deeply uncomfortable with having any conversation about emotions with the kids in their classes.

Which goes to show that unless the adults in the room, or in society, are equipped with these skills, there’s no hope for the younger generations coming up.

Big idea #2 — The five skills of emotional intelligence

And these skills sit under the acronym of R U L E R.

R — Recognise: recognising in ourselves and others, through verbal and nonverbal cues, what emotion is being felt.

U — Understand: understanding those feelings and more importantly, the source of them.

L — Label: this requires us to have a better vocabulary in terms of our emotional awareness and being able to label emotions.

E — Express: learning to express our emotions in a healthy way that informs others of how we’re feeling and maybe what action/support we need.

R — Regulate: regulating your emotions rather than letting them regulate you.

By practicing these regularly, you get better at them and may find situations people (and maybe just your general days) easier to deal with. Especially if you practice them in conjunction with in your partner, family unit, or work team.

Understanding is probably one of the hardest ones to master, as we need to be able to ask why in the heat of the moment; why is that person, or why am I reacting like this or feeling this way? Which when you’re in the heat of the moment, maybe in a high emotion situation might be hard to do.

Labeling might be a good skill to start building, because that we can do it in isolation with a list of emotions and improving our emotional vocabulary from the limited ‘mad, sad, glad’ and recognise more subtle, nuanced emotions.

Big idea #3 — bring emotional intelligence home or to work

It’s so incredible how much people deeply want, and need, to share their feelings, but yet how much we’re hiding from each other, for fear of ridicule or some kind of repercussion for sharing how we feel.

There’s so many examples in the book, particularly teachers and groups of parents, that Marc has run workshops with. Given a chance, they release an outpouring of stress, shame, guilt, and all these other deep emotional states that people just don’t have the opportunity, or feel safe to share in other situations.

So along with being an emotion scientist, and using the RULER skills, we can bring emotional intelligence into our homes or workplaces by doing four things.

  1. Set yourself up for success by setting some kind of charter, and consistently role modeling, healthy emotional management. The book shares examples of families or school classrooms that have set a charter for how they will treat each other, how they will deal with emotions, the conversations they will have, the language they will use, which sets a consistent baseline for emotions and relationships. And how having these charters, or agreements, helped then later on in conversations when things do get a bit heated.
  2. Explore, using the emotion scientist mindset, being a learner, not a knower, and helping others label their emotions, and not trying to fix or minimise how other people are feeling.
  3. Strategise, once you know how the other person is feeling, you can help them move forward. This might just actually be by being there for them, or it could be a hug (if appropriate!), or potentially helping them seek some more professional help, if required.
  4. Follow up with them a little bit later, ask them how they’re feeling now, help them reflect, and help them to identify any emotional patterns repeating over time as well.


Further listening: Marc Brackett on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast.



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