Money Maven Chellie Campbell on Fear, Financial Stress and Angry People

Chellie Campbell's book is the best book on spirituality and money I've ever read, so I contacted her recently to get her take on the lingering after-effects of the Great Recession and people's financial fear.
06/08/2012 01:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chellie Campbell is a money expert. She's also a keep observer of human behavior. Perhaps she should be called a money therapist or financial shrink! Her book, The Wealthy Spirit is the best book on spirituality and money I've ever read, so I contacted her recently to get her take on the lingering after-effects of the Great Recession and people's financial fear.

I've been noticing kind of an angry backlash against optimism, positive thinking, the Law of Attraction, affirmations, and the like. Have you noticed it, too, and what do you make of it?

Yes, I've noticed the backlash, too. I think it might be a reaction to "The Secret" and the Law of Attraction from a lot of practical people, otherwise known as "realists." Many people misinterpret the Law of Attraction -- they think of it as the Law of Wishing, like all you have to do is think positive and say affirmations and success, love, and money will rain down upon you. When people run that idea by me, I just say, "Tell me how many affirmations you'd have to say in front of a piano before you could play it?" Clearly, even if you have an innate talent, you aren't going to be playing Mozart or Bach anytime soon without years of study and practice. Same with any sport or skill. Would you want to be operated on by a doctor who didn't go to medical school? So it's easy to see the fallacy of that kind of thinking. But people who then dismiss positive thinking as hogwash aren't paying attention to the evidence, either.

Last year, Time magazine ran a cover story on "The Science of Optimism" by Tali Sharot. The question posed is: "Why are humans hard-wired for hope?" The article says that researchers studying heart disease patients found that optimists are more likely than pessimistic patients to take vitamins, eat low-fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing coronary risk. Pessimistic heart patients under 60 were more likely to die within eight months than optimistic patients of the same initial health, status and age. We have to have a vision of a successful outcome to drive us forward to do the things that pay off.

"A brain that doesn't expect good results lacks a signal telling it, 'Take notice - wrong answer!' These brains will fail to learn from their mistakes and are less likely to improve over time. ... A growing body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness. What it shows could fuel a revolution in psychology, as the field comes to grips with accumulating evidence that our brains aren't just stamped by the past. They are constantly being shaped by the future."

I love it when science starts finding evidence for optimism. But it's also true that the Law of Attraction must always be helped along by the Law of Action. But you won't do the actions if you don't think they will work, so thinking positively must come first.

I saw this funny thing the other day. It said: "How to start an argument on Facebook: (1) Post an opinion. (2) Wait." I cracked up -- it's so true. But what strikes me is how personal and vicious people are in their Internet communication. Why do you suppose that is? And is there anything to be done about it?

I think there have always been a lot of angry, awful people who can't wait to get into an argument, or point out other people's errors or problems, or just whine and complain about everything. But the Internet has given them a lot of real estate where they can share their anger anonymously. I remember reading one woman's blog that only existed to make fun of people and slam their ideas. What a sorry way to spend your time and energy! I think what tends to happen is that when there are too many responses of a negative nature on a blog, all the positive people turn it off and stop posting. I love having reasoned discussions of differences of opinion or belief, but it has to be with people who are open-minded and interested in the exploration of ideas.

It happens with email, too. One client of mine called me up crying because she had sent out a newsletter and offered some counseling on a current problem in her industry. She got some angry emails from people who were upset about it and said that she was using the problem to sell her services, and some of them were really vicious. I had her read me one. "Yeah, that's pretty nasty," I said, "but let me ask you something. Have you ever in your life written something that nasty to someone you didn't even know?" "No," she replied. "Me either," I said. "We can't worry about people like that. If they want to belittle us or yell at us, get them off our list!"

I believe that there are two kinds of people in the world: "Your People" and "Not Your People". When someone acts up like that, they are Not Your People. Let them go away. I "unsubscribe" those people right away. When it happens in an online forum discussion or something, I take the high road and let them know what I think, but if those people are much in evidence on a site, I won't return. It's psychically debilitating and just plain no fun. I have better uses for my time and energy. One of the great quotes I love is "A pessimist builds dungeons in the air." I want to hang out with the fun people building castles, thank you very much.

You teach classes in Financial Stress Reduction and I'm sure there is never any shortage of people who need your help. But have you notices any changes in the types of financial problems people bring to your classes? How has the Great Recession affected financial stresses and strains -- professionally and/or personally?

The Great Recession has really been tough for people. When the market crashed in 2008 and all the financial talking heads on the news shook their heads and talked doom and gloom and said, "Don't spend any money!" I knew we were in for a big dip. When nobody is spending money, nobody is earning any money either, are they? So businesses lowered their prices, had sales, had giveaways and coupons, and got really creative in their marketing. Some people have really thrived in this economy, and I think everyone took another look at what they were doing with their savings, their debt, and their careers or businesses. When the heat's on, people get really creative!

The problems that people come to me for help with are the same as they were before this economic slump, just a little more so: they want to make more money, get out of debt, grow their business, find their ideal career, save money for retirement, have more time off for fun now, too. All of these are constants. There are more people who are frightened as more people are losing their homes -- I've talked with more people who are upside-down in their mortgages than before.

But people tend to have a lot of fear around money all the time anyway. It's just what we're brought up with, and the media increases it. We see the rich and famous filing bankruptcy and losing their homes, too, and we wonder who is safe? There really is no such thing as security - there isn't a stock that can't lose its value, a house that can't burn down, or a job you can't be fired from. You can't even promise you'll be alive tomorrow! Everything is a risk, but you can get good at risk-reward ratios and make better choices for greater safety and more peace of mind. There is an ebb and flow to life and money. Whenever good times are here, you know it won't last forever so you've got to be making some wise investments. And then when bad times come, you'll have something to draw on to see you through to the next good times.

What are the challenges you're facing in your own business these day? And how do you their deal with them?

My challenges are always the same: find more clients who want what I have and help them find a way to have it -- at the price that makes my budget work. Of course, doing something called "Financial Stress Reduction" means I hear from a lot of people who are stressed, and some of them don't have the money to work with me personally right now. I've done special discounts, but you have to make sure that your discounted price still generates the income you need. I do more payment plans now that I did before, to help people who want to come with their cash flow. But there are limits to that, and I can't help everyone or I'll be financially stressed myself.

That's why I wrote my two books, The Wealthy Spirit and Zero to Zillionaire -- so people who are interested in taking control of their financial lives can learn about the principles I teach and do own self-study course. A lot of people reading the books come to me later when their finances improve for the next steps through my workshops and private coaching. I love helping people win in their lives and with their money, feel good about the future and their ability to cope with whatever comes up!

Photo courtesy Used with permission.

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