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By: David Lee Sexton, Jr., MS

Pixabay[Chess by klimkin on June 29, 2016, CC0]

Have you ever found yourself overcome with emotion? Not necessarily even a single emotion, but multiple, possibly conflicting emotions, and just felt completely unable to interpret what you are feeling? It’s likely that many of us have experienced something like this that stands out in our memories, but it is probably associated with a significant event or moment in life. It stands to reason that people would find it difficult to interpret and regulate emotion during a stressful or traumatic event, but have you considered your ability to process simple, day-to-day emotion? Most of us probably take for granted the complexity of our feelings during everyday life, perhaps because we do not recognize how complex they can really be. Dr. Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University, addresses this when discussing the concept of emotional intelligence by asking individuals he teaches one question: “in one word, how are you feeling today?” (“Use a RULER”, 2013). (…I, for one, can’t think of a word that fully encapsulates how I feel today. Happy? Content? Content, but kinda tired, maybe… Oops. That’s more than one.)

Nothing seems to fully express it. Dr. Brackett finds that this is the case for most individuals. They are able to talk about their emotions, but narrowing it down to one word proves to be far more challenging (“Use a RULER”, 2013). Keeping in mind that grown adults have trouble with this, think about how difficult it must be for children to express their emotions.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) and RULER
In general terms, emotional intelligence (EI) refers to one’s ability to understand and control his or her own emotions, as well as understand and empathize with the feelings of others (“RULER Overview”, n.d.). In order to help individuals, especially school-aged children, develop the skills to gain this understanding and control, Dr. Brackett and his team isolated the following five skills, which form the acronym RULER and can help individuals improve EI (“Use a RULER”, 2013):

Recognize: The first step is to avoid suppression of emotion. It is important to acknowledge emotions, rather than ignoring them.

Understand Causes and Consequences: It is also important to identify what stimulus caused the experience of a particular emotion. This can help in understanding the potential positive or negative consequences of that emotion.

Label: RULER also notes the importance of broadening one’s emotional vocabulary. In other words, learning words that more accurately describe what you feel. For example, are you just sad? Or are you melancholy? Somber, perhaps?

Express Emotions Appropriately: This skill involves determining the appropriate way to express one’s emotions in varying social settings.

Regulate Emotions: Finally, learning how to control your emotions and engage in appropriate expression at appropriate times is emphasized.

These skills can be applied in many ways, such as facilitating one’s effectiveness as a leader (“Use a RULER”, 2013); however, the skills were initially developed in order to provide an evidence-based method of developing social and emotional learning in schools (“RULER Overview”, n.d.). Evidence suggests that development of EI, attained through use of the RULER skills, is important in teaching/learning, decision making processes, and academic success, and this has been demonstrated through evaluation of the RULER approach, which found that students using RULER did, in fact, experience greater academic success (“RULER Overview”, n.d.).

Mood Meter App
Yep! There’s an app for that! Dr. Brackett also developed an app called “Mood Meter”, which individuals can utilize to attain greater awareness of their own emotions. The app can also help users expand their emotional vocabularies and develop strategies for regulating their emotions and expressing them appropriately.


Use a RULER to measure how you feel. (2013). Executive Leadership, 28(9), 6.
Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. (n.d.). RULER Overview. Retrieved from:

This post was written by members of the OneOp Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp Family Development concentration on our websiteFacebook, and Twitter.  You can also listen to our Anchored. podcast series via iTunes and our website.