David Krueger has an unusually varied background. He worked for two decades as a psychoanalyst, served as CEO for two healthcare organizations, and has for the last decade been an executive mentor coach whose clients include multinational CEO’s, professional athletes and other prominent achievers. He is bestselling author of fifteen books and seventy-five papers and book chapters on success, money, wellness and self-development. (His Success and the Fear of Success in Women [Free Press] was ranked on the Master’s List of the 100 Most Influential Professional Books of the 20th Century.)

And one more thing: his regular column “Your Story” has been a favorite of
Networking Times’ readers for years.

Dave has a unique perspective on the roles money plays in our lives. His approach integrates the insights of psychology, neuroscience, quantum physics, and strategic coaching to help professionals and executives write the next chapter of their life or business stories. His new book,
The Secret Language of Money (which this editor had the delight and privilege of coauthoring) was just released in August 2009. — J.D.M.

How did you come to your study of the secret language of money?

Let me tell you the prequel to that story.

Imagine a four- to five-year-old boy, no brothers or sisters, isolated on a farm two and a half miles from the nearest town, population 626, in central Texas. Three and a half feet tall and unemployed, with an active mind and nothing to do with it.

That little cowboy made up a lot of stories. There were dead outlaws all over the place.

But then I made a discovery—the kind, as James Hillman puts it in Soul’s Code, that ignites a life calling. On our dining room wall was a telephone, a big wooden box with a cone receiver and hand crank. In the country, you shared a party line with maybe five or six other people. We were “one long and one short.” And I learned, accidentally at first, that you could listen to stories.

Miss Dessi lived about two miles down calieche road, but for me she was only two shorts and one long away. She had the best stories by far, better than the ones I could make up.

Miss Dessi’s currency was information, and she was one rich woman. Even later on, when we became one of the first farm and ranch families in Miles, Texas to get a television, I found that As the World Turns had nothing on Miss Dessi. She and her friends expanded my world view.

Of course, I had to stay pretty close to the phone, and that cut down on my own story-making time. Miss Dessi single-handedly saved a whole lot of West Texas outlaws from an early death.

As I grew older I learned to listen to different kinds of stories. In medicine, symptoms are stories that beg to be listened to, rather than silenced or disregarded.

I still work on the telephone, but I’ve refined my technique a little. Now I only listen to people who know I’m on the other end, and they pay me.

How did you move from medicine to business and coaching?

During my two decades as a psychoanalyst, I became interested in money stories while working with executives. I began noticing the way their personal stories kind of hitchhiked on money.

For example, I would see people bargain with themselves: “After I make $1 million [or $5 million, or $10 million], then I’m really going to be happy.” If their goal was to make $5 million, then when they got there they would often up the ante and say, “Well, I’ll really be happy if I just get to $8 million and have that socked away.”

In the early 1990s, a few of my patients who owned businesses were working with Dan Sullivan, a high-level business coach in Toronto. He would get them to look at what they were uniquely good at, then coach them to do only that and delegate everything else.

I was fascinated with how well that was working. They were happier, made considerably more money, and had significantly more time off. I became one of the first psychiatrists in the country to start referring clients to coaches.

I had planned to retire from medicine and just write after twenty-five years. When the time came, I was all set to do so financially—but I knew I wanted to continue working with people. So I began coaching.

The coaching experiences fed into the writing, and that grew into The Secret Language of Money.

A lot has been written about the psychology of money, but your work seems to bring to it a kind of scholarly thoroughness and academic rigor that’s new in this field.

In some ways, yes. I edited a book about money in 1986 called The Last Taboo, and aside from one other book that dated from the sixties, this was the first book in psychotherapeutic practice about money. I wrote the first article on compulsive shopping in the 1980s.

In simple terms, what is the secret language of money?

We each have a money story that is very personal to us, with its own history and language. This story is complex, because it has both an internal and external dialogue. Some of it is emotional, much of it is unspoken and even unconscious.

Its language is secret in that there are all kinds of meanings and encrypted messages that we often don’t even recognize ourselves.

Our book is about unraveling that secret language, helping you learn about your own money story and then create change in that story, so that it becomes exactly what you want it to be.

Why is this story and its language such a secret, even to ourselves?

The simple answer is that we really don’t talk much about money.

Our money story starts with how we see our parents responding to money. Many of us grew up in families where we watched our parents not talk about it openly or comfortably. And even as children, we were constantly taking notes.

When we see a model of how someone close to us behaves with money, we internalize that and it becomes an unconscious script we follow. The challenge is that this script is typically unseen and unexamined. If we want to change it, we first have to crystallize our awareness of it.

In the opening of the book, you compare how we talk about sex with how we talk about money.

“Money questions will be treated by cultured people in the same manner as sexual matters, with the same prudishness, inconsistency and hypocrisy.” That was Sigmund Freud speaking in 1913.

Today, almost a century later, most of us speak far more openly about sex—but we are still embarrassed and conflicted when it comes to money talk.

If you doubt this, ask the hosts of your next dinner party what their annual income is. You probably won’t be on the guest list for their next event. Ask how much debt they have, and you may not see dessert.

There’s a saying in networking circles, that you will grow your check only as big as you grow yourself. How do we figure out what our own money story is and, if we don’t like it, change it?

I sometimes describe this process with the acronym ROADMAP.

The first step is to Recognize that we have a story, and that changing it is a process, not something you can just do instantly.

Second is to Own our story, to take ownership of what we are creating day by day.

Third is to Assess that story; then fourth, to Decide what we want to change. Next, to Map those changes, and then to Author them, to implement them in our lives.

Finally—and this is crucial—we have to Program our whole new identity around this new story. It’s not enough to simply change one bit of behavior, like saying, “Okay, I’m really going to pay my bills on time,” or, “I promise myself I’m not going to buy things I can’t afford.”

To change our story, we need to change the very model of how and who we see ourselves to be. Otherwise, before long we’ll be right back in that same story.

You’ve said, “Tell me your assumptions and I’ll tell you how much money you’re going to make.”

Exactly. For example, 80 percent of all those in the United States who have won $3 million or more in the lottery went on to declare bankruptcy within the next five years. Why? Because their money changed, but their mindset, their basic assumptions about who they are, did not.

This was something I saw early on in analytic practice, and now see in coaching: it’s often a greater challenge to deal with success than it is to deal with scarcity or adversity.

Why is that?

Because success vaults you into an entirely new position, and unless you change some of the basic ways you see yourself, you will revert back to that old comfort zone. Not because it’s comfortable, but because it’s familiar.

A good example is Susan Boyle.

The woman who became a finalist in Britain’s Got Talent.

Here was someone who had lived a very simple life in a small village in Scotland. Suddenly she was vaulted onto the world stage. The stimulation was too much for her. The day after the show’s final event, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

I see this all the time. When people move into extreme success, it’s a huge challenge. You have to deal with the stimulation of that new level of success; you have to learn how to regulate yourself and stay with your core values, even though you now have more money, possibilities, freedom, fame, and whatever else has come your way.

There are so many novels and films about people who are destroyed by their own success. We like to think, “That would never happen to me, I’d never let success go to my head”—but you’re saying chances are pretty good it would happen.

Take F. Scott Fitzgerald: he had just completed his novel, This Side of Paradise. He was riding high, a successful writer with a beautiful wife, living a storybook life. One day, as he’s riding in a taxi under a gorgeous sky, he begins to cry because, he later wrote, “I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.”

In his mind, his story was over. He descended into alcoholism and depression and died an early death.

Elvis is another example. He became the story of success—but it wasn’t that story that had brought him success. He identified with this success story, tried to inhabit it, and lost himself in it. That story and his true story both came to an abrupt end with him lying cold on the bathroom floor at forty-two, full of drugs and the trappings of success.

Now here were two guys who needed coaches. Not to become successful, but to deal with success—to learn how to rewrite their own stories in order to sustain and grow that success.

Failure and success are both stories, and they have to be written. Who writes them? We do.

So are you saying we need to change and rewrite our existing money story, or write a whole new one?

That’s an excellent question. Let me approach it in this way.

One of the challenges of change is that you can’t just present a fact or an experience and have that override what’s already there.

When you know a fact or have a belief, those are both anatomical structures in your brain. Simply overlaying another fact or belief won’t work, because the original anatomical structure is still there.

“A belief is an anatomical structure in the brain”—we did not learn that in high school!

There are some amazing new findings coming out of the premier neuroscience labs that offer new insight into how the mind and the brain work. It’s one of the most exciting things about this field.

In just the last two years, we’ve learned from neuroscience that beliefs can turn genes on or off. That’s pretty remarkable. It means that those things in our lives that we think are givens, are not really givens at all. We’re creating them.

Whatever we think, feel and experience, we’re creating each moment. Which means that if there are aspects you want to change, you can do that—but you have to do it in a systematic way.

It takes twenty-five to thirty days to really change a basic default mode or assumption. This came out of some fascinating research here in Houston, out of NASA.

Some astronauts were put in headgear that exactly reversed the images they saw. Up was down, down was up. They stayed in this headgear for 24 hours a day. And they noticed something remarkable: at day 25, their brains had rewired. They no longer needed to go through the conscious compensation. They could just move about normally. Their brains had learned to “see” up as down: they had changed the anatomical structures of those neural pathways.

Interestingly, at Day 15 they took one group out of the headgear for 24 hours. When they put the headgear back on, these astronauts had to go through another 25 days from that point on before their brains would rewire.

In other words, you have to consciously apply your new beliefs consistently, day in day out, in order to really create a lasting change.

So is it just a matter of writing out some affirmations and drilling those into ourselves, or do we first have to get clear on what’s already inside and do something with that?

We have to know what’s already there in order to know not to engage it. But you have to be in the new story before you can give up the old story.

That’s the drawback of some kinds of therapies: focusing on understanding and resolving an old story doesn’t create a new story. What’s more, the more we focus on that old story, the more deeply we etch it into our brains. The way the brain works is that we get what we focus on.

This is something else we now know from the very latest research in neuroscience: the brain cannot tell the difference between what you see visually and what you see in your mind’s eye.

This explains the efficacy of creating a vivid, specific vision. When you first create an experience of your future success in your mind’s eye, and then you begin to actually have that experience in the external, you don’t have to be daunted or afraid of that success—because you’ve already had a chance to adapt to the experience. Now you just have to back into it and find a strategic way to actualize it.

This reverses a lot of thinking I had, even as a psychoanalyst, about success and fear of success. In coaching, we deal with being choice architects of this moment—focusing not on what happened or the intricacies of that story, but on making the most informed, strategic choices for now and what’s next.

The future can seem very intimidating. How do you bridge the gap between where you are, and that new story you’re trying to envision?

This is what good teachers and good parents understand.

You can’t present something new and expect the person to simply step into it right away. You have to begin where somebody is and go step by step to a new place. It’s a gradual process.

What’s important is the relationship, because that bridge between two people and two stories is built by one’s belief in the other.

This is how parenting works. The most important thing we can give our children is our belief in them. Over time, they will internalize that as their own belief in themselves.

If we ask them to do something they’re not able to do, or if we do something for them that they could do themselves, then we take away that basic motivation of effectiveness and mastery.

When we convey a belief in them, they’ll read that, know it, internalize it and use it as a kind of emotional fuel.

Same thing in network marketing. You don’t just tell somebody what to do. And you don’t just model wonderful behavior. That’s important, but where it takes hold is out of the relationship.

The relationship is the crucible in which this kind of change occurs. It is the solid footing from which a person can dare to take chances, create new behaviors and experiences, and ultimately embrace that new evolving self, including dealing with all of the trappings of success.

How is being a coach different from your old life as a psychiatrist?

It’s more exciting, because I can be more active and involved with possibilities, rather than with problems. Stepping into the future is much more exciting than just coming to the end of the past.

Being a coach is more being a catalyst for others’ growth. Not ghostwriting their story, but helping them to write their own story in the most evolved way they can, and develop their voice in doing that.

I would imagine that’s what you hope for with your downline. Each of them is going to have a different story, but you’re a catalyst for their growth and achievement.

And you also witness it. The affirmation of that witnessing and applause is very important, too.

I believe the most basic motivation we have as human beings is to be effective, to be a cause. I’ve seen research that demonstrates this clearly from as early as three months of age, and we have that same motivation, in evolving forms, throughout adulthood.

Wow! That’s a thunderbolt of a thought: our strongest motivation is to be effective.

In a way, every psychological symptom and problem I saw as a psychoanalyst was someone trying to be effective, given their circumstance and context.

That’s what you do in network marketing: you capture that model of effectiveness, motivation and inspiration, and help instill that in other people, not by simply giving it, but by catalyzing it in each person you work with.

What are your hopes for this book?

My best hope is that it will help people become more clear and effective in their own money stories. Because the money stories we write and live, for example as parents, will be ones that we teach our children. Our money story becomes a legacy that will live beyond us.