How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath & Donald O’ Clifton
One Line Summary
Learn about the power of positive energy
Have you ever noticed that energy seems to attract like energy?
Think about it. When you’re in a negative mood, all you seem to get it is more reasons to stay negative. You snap angrily at a friend because of something they did, and they yell right now.
Conversely, when you’re in a positive mood, all you seem to get is more reasons to be positive. A stranger gives you a big smile and you can’t help but smile back.
In other words, energy is contagious.
This is boringly obvious when you think about, and everyone seems to have an intuitive grasp that this is how life works. And yet few people really consider the ramifications of this.
How Full Is Your Bucket is a tiny little book about how positive and negative energy influences others. The authors use a simple metaphor of a bucket and a dipper to explain how well all interact with each other emotionally.
Why it’s Awesome
One of the most telling parts of this book for me came in the beginning. The authors shared a story about how Korean soldiers were able to mentally break American POWs during the Korean War simply by withholding any form of positive emotional feedback.
By stopping the chain of positive emotions, many American soldiers would mentally “give up” and soon be found dead. Not from suicide, but literally just from deciding that they had enough. The body then followed the mind.
If starving someone of positive emotions is enough to kill people, what would this mean for the way we typically interact with people?
Think of how much anger, criticism, blame, jealousy you have promoted throughout your lifetime. How have you unintendedly affected other people’s lives?
Personally, the emotion I’ve probably struggled with the most on that list has been anger. It’s not like I go running around punching walls, but the truth is that I probably would have liked to. Still do sometimes.
Note, this is not a judgment that these negative emotions “bad”. This is simply an observation of how things work. And how things work is that negative emotions are often destructive to individuals and groups.
The authors explain that when your bucket is full, i.e you feel emotionally taken care of, your bucket overflows onto other people. By filling your bucket, you fill others.
On the contrast, when your bucket is low, you “dip” into other people’s emotional buckets. By dipping, you lower your bucket and theirs.
Spiritually minded people might recognize this as a simplified version of the Law of Attraction. Vibrations that match in frequency attract each other.
This obviously is not limited to POWs either. Whether you are a business, sports team, couple, family or just a group of friends, this principle of bucket dipping is crucial to your success.
So what’s the solution?
The solution starts with people becoming more conscious of when they are bucket dipping. If you’re not aware that this is happening, no solution will ever work.
So start just taking note of your actions, like a scientist. Where am I dipping into other people’s buckets, and when is my bucket overflowing?
This is difficult because many people will feel justified in spreading negative emotions. If your co-worker forgets to get you important project details on time, it seems warranted to get angry at them. After all, they hurt you, didn’t they?
But whether it’s justified is really not the point. The point is that bucket dipping is almost never an effective solution in relationships with others. So why indulge at all?
The truth is we indulge not because what the other person did was really that horrible. But because it gives a certain sense of satisfaction. We get to feel like “the good guy” or “the victim” or whatever role we resonate with.
So bucket dipping is the easy way out. What’s much harder is to show understanding, compassion and acceptance in those kind of situations. That goes against your self-agenda.
I’ll admit I am far from perfect in this. But what really matters in this area is simply making progress.
One question I’ve been asking myself is this: why would I ever intend to make someone feel worse?
Obviously I cannot control how others feel. But what really matters here is the intention, not the result. And it just doesn’t make sense to me that you’d ever want to purposefully bring others down.
Why Does It Suck
I would have liked to see more depth from this book. It’s incredibly short, only about 1.5 hours on audiobook. There’s a lot to talk about here but this really just skimmed the surface.
The Wrap Up
Amazing quick read for anyone who is looking to get better with their people skills. Also an amazing read for leaders of any kind. This will give you a general framework for how to grow your culture.