Notes on Permission to Feel

Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
How are you feeling? gets asked throughout Marc Brackett’s book Permission to Feel. He challenges the reader to not only pause to answer the question, but to use his RULER tool to become an emotion scientist. By building the skills to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate our emotions, Brackett believes we’ll be able to “think smarter, more creatively, and get better results from the people around us.” He’s the founding director at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence whose goal is to use the power of emotions to create a healthier and more equitable, innovative, and compassionate society.

Here are a few excerpts that convey the importance he places on building and practicing these emotion skills:

~ "Today, when nearly every question can be handled instantly by Siri, or Google, or Alexa, we’re losing the habit of pausing to look inward, or to one another for answers."

~ "Emotion skills must be acquired. Nobody is born with them all in place and ready to work. Emotion skills amplify our strengths and help us through challenges."

~ "Anxiety, fear, pressure, and stress. At first they seem almost interchangeable, but in fact they are distinct feelings, each with its own source."

Throughout the book he weaves in his own personal childhood story and the impact his Uncle Marvin had on him to understand his own emotions. More compelling to me, however, were the statistics supporting the current need for this work. At the time he wrote the book, anxiety disorders were the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 25 percent of children between 13-18 years old. According to a report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health for the years 2009-2015, the number of students visiting college counseling centers increased by more than 30 percent with anxiety and depression being the most common reasons.

Brackett makes a compelling case for the need especially in our schools where he’s trying to bring his curriculum. Here are a few excerpts related to emotions and learning:

~ "In schools, it’s hard to be creative when convergent thinking - the ability to remember facts and perform well on tests - is most highly rewarded. To engage children and prepare them for the workforce, they must be given more opportunities and encouragement to be creative."

~ "Sixth graders who went five days without glancing at a smartphone or other digital screen were better at reading emotions than their peers from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their phones, tablets, computers, and so on."

~ "Only when children learn in psychologically safe environments that nurture their emotion skills can they move from helplessness to resilience, from anxiety to action, from scattered to centered, from isolated to connected."

Permission to Play:

Brackett also points to the role emotions and moods play in workplaces as they spread from one person to another also known as “emotional contagion.” Being able to create schools, workplaces, and communities in which people feel able to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate their emotions is important. 

How do we get there? Formal SEL programs like the one Brackett has developed will definitely move us forward. But in our experience, we have seen rooms of people transform when we introduce spinning plates or juggling balls or balloon twisting challenges. We need to bring play back to classrooms and workplaces. We’ve watched corporate bankers loosen ties, roll up their sleeves, and become more themselves. We’ve seen toughened teens lower their guard and giggle like the kids they actually are. 

We pepper the experience with reflection questions so they can pause and share with each other. Because as Brackett said, “My guess is that if you can turn off your analytic mind for a moment, you will get a clear - visceral - sense of your underlying emotional state.”

So we challenge you to play and then ask...How am I feeling?

(And if you need help finding ways to play - we can help).