IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Expert advice to help you make the right life decisions when it counts

At a crossroad in your life and don't know which way to turn? For two decades, Ken Lindner has built a reputation as one of broadcast journalism’s most successful talent agents and career counselors. He’s learned that even everyday decisions have the power to become crucial turning points in life. Now, Linder offers the same advice in his book, "Crunch Time: 8 Steps to Making the Right Life De
/ Source: TODAY

At a crossroad in your life and don't know which way to turn? For two decades, Ken Lindner has built a reputation as one of broadcast journalism’s most successful talent agents and career counselors. He’s learned that even everyday decisions have the power to become crucial turning points in life. Now, Linder offers the same advice in his book, "Crunch Time: 8 Steps to Making the Right Life Decisions When It Counts." He was invited on the "Today" show to discuss his recipe for success. Here's an excerpt.


I have devoted my professional and personal lives to enabling people to fulfill their potential, by giving them the tools to make wise, constructive, and self-enhancing decisions. It gives me incredible satisfaction to see the individuals with whom I’ve worked and/or coached enhance themselves and others by thinking and acting in constructive ways, so that they not only achieve their most cherished goals, but also develop valid, positive self-esteem in the process. And, as you will glean from what follows, the process or manner in which you reach your decisions is vitally important to your psychological and emotional well-being.

There is no question that one of my good fortunes is that I have been able to identify talented individuals, early in their careers, and secure their representation. However, I have observed over and over again that talent alone is merely unrealized potential. Attaining sustained success in any endeavor takes more than just talent, ability, or heartfelt dreams — it requires rock-solid decision-making skills, based upon constructive and self-enhancing decision-making strategies.

I was blessed, as a late-blooming child, to have loving parents — especially a mother —  who believed in me, effectively counseled me, and never made me feel “less than.” As a result of this support, my extensive athletic endeavors, and the creation and implementation of my Crunch Time Decision-Making Strategies, I have grown to be much happier and have achieved many of my goals and dreams. Due in large part to this good feeling and success, my life mission is to believe in and counsel others, so that they can achieve their most precious goals and develop legitimate high self-esteem.

In the film Dead Poets Society, prep-school teacher John Keating, portrayed by Robin Williams, shares the following thought about life with his students:

The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will that verse be? What you are about to read in Crunch Time is the heart and soul of my life’s work and verse. I believe that if you take the time to reflect upon and absorb the material herein, it can and will make a very positive difference in how you write the future verses of your life’s

Decisions and Decision-Making: An Overview

The keys to attaining your goals, fulfilling your dreams, and achieving inner happiness are:

Making Constructive and Enhancing Decisions and Thereafter Acting Consistently with These Decisions for as Long as They Remain Constructive and Enhancing

Every day, we’re faced with all sorts of issues, choices, and decisions that affect our lives to varying degrees. Some decisions will change our lives forever. In some cases, just a few critical decisions can make a world of difference in a person’s life. Other decisions are less profound, but still have an important impact on whether we eventually achieve our large and small goals. The act of making constructive decisions and doing positive things for ourselves makes us feel good about ourselves. This good feeling, in turn, propels and catalyzes us to do more and more enhancing things for ourselves. Conversely, destructive and self-sabotaging decision-making and behavior diminish the quality of our lives and — in our Heart-of-Hearts — make us feel bad about ourselves. Therefore, it behooves you to strive to rid yourself of unhealthy decision-making strategies and to develop, modify, and keep the enhancing ones, in order to become the wisest decision-maker you can be and thereby fulfill your positive potential.

You are the result of your decisions! The state of your life and your inner happiness, in large part, are reflections of your decisions. Your decisions are your very precious opportunities — each and every one of them — to either raise the quality of your life and the lives of those around you, or to lower the quality. They are your wonderful chances — your everyday gifts — all there for the taking, to seize your “gold-ring” (forget the brass stuff!) dreams.

There is no question in my mind that what separates those individuals who achieve their goals and realize their most cherished dreams from those who don’t is the process by which the achievers reach their decisions.

During my twenty years as a career counselor and choreographer, I’ve worked with scores of individuals who have learned to think through and deal with things constructively. Not surprisingly, a great majority of them have achieved the highest pinnacles of success. Interestingly, a number of these successful people have achieved even more than their natural talent might indicate that they could. (I am one of them.) Their constructive mind-sets and strategies enabled and empowered them to become super- or overachievers. For instance, I would argue that tennis great Chris Evert didn’t possess some of the physical strength or natural athletic gifts that some of her competitors enjoyed. She didn’t have anything resembling a powerful serve and she rarely came to the net to volley, yet she dominated women’s tennis for years. Why? Because she was so mentally and emotionally strong and constructive. On the other hand, I know far too many people who have undermined themselves through their destructive decision-making and thought processes. As a result, time after time, they experience crushing defeats, because without constructive and effective decision-making skills and strategies, even the most brilliant talent can be wasted. Not only do these often supremely gifted individuals never come close to fulfilling their potential, and therefore fail to taste the sweet, high- self-esteem fruits of well-made decisions, but in many instances, they also destroy significant portions of their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Let’s take a moment to compare the following words:

Enhancing vs. Sabotaging

Fulfilled vs. Empty

Constructive vs. Destructive

Positive vs. Negative

Healthy vs. Toxic

Proactive vs. Victim

Successful vs. Failure

How do you want to describe yourself, your decisions, and your decision-making processes?

I’m sure that if you’re reading this book, you’d probably choose the left-hand column. Yet as sure as death follows life, we all engage in some amount of diminishing, destructive, and toxic decision-making.

No one in this world is perfect. The key is to become the very best decision-maker you can. My mom once shared the following thought with me: “I’d rather strive for perfection and fall short, then strive for mediocrity and attain it.” Smart person, my mom!

Let’s strive to be the best we can be. Constructive decision-making can be simple. You just have to want to learn, want to grow, and want to lift the quality of your life.

Why Do We Make Such Bad Decisions?!

Ever since I became a career counselor, I’ve been stunned by how often bright and talented individuals make self-destructive and self-sabotaging decisions. It’s absolutely amazing, and a profoundly sad reality.

I see examples of poisonous decision-making throughout my day. Witness the fact that so many people: stay in relationships that are diminishing and emotionally and/or psychologically toxic; smoke cigarettes, even though there is clear evidence that smoking is deadly to themselves and to others in the vicinity; take recreational drugs, such as heroin, crack, cocaine, etc., when they know that they are risking their health; overeat to an unhealthy extent or to the point of obesity; consume alcohol in dangerous amounts and/or drink and drive; have unprotected sex in this era of AIDS; and, most of all, engage in activities that they, in their Heart-of-Hearts, know are destructive and dangerous to the emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of themselves and valued others.

Destructive decision-making and self-sabotage are all around us. For example, is there a more blatant illustration of self-destructive behavior than the Kobe Bryant case? Kobe seemed to have everything going for him. He is a top professional basketball player; he earns millions of dollars a year in salary and more than ten times that in product endorsements; he has a beautiful young wife and a new child; and he was one of the most respected and beloved athletes of our time. For some reason, however, he made a decision that put all this at risk, for what appears to be an hour or so of physical pleasure. To the general observer, Kobe was “crazy” to have sex with the woman, regardless of consent. But I must tell you, Kobe Bryant is no different from any of us. At times, we all make flawed and self-destructive decisions — especially when our emotions come into play. The difference between Kobe and almost everyone else is that Kobe’s destructive decision-making is front and center in the public spotlight, and his humiliation, potential losses, and fall from grace have been, and will be, far more dramatic than most.

What is especially interesting about Kobe is that in some areas of his life, such as his basketball endeavors, he has learned through focused practice and well-thought-out preparation to make excellent reflexive decisions. He knows when and how to dribble the ball past defenders and drive to the basket for a dunk or a layup, when to stop and shoot a jump shot, etc. Through focused practice and preparation, he has attained almost thorough mastery and control of his mental, emotional, and physical skills on the basketball court. However, when certain personal emotions, emotional weaknesses, needs, and/or temptations were involved or triggered — which he had not taken the requisite time to prepare to deal with constructively — Kobe, like all of us at one time or another, seemingly reacted thoughtlessly and reflexively by making a devastatingly destructive and self-sabotaging decision. Part of the problem is that when we’re faced with important decisions, we often have little or no time to think things through objectively, in order to reach the most constructive short- and long-term decisions.

It has been my experience that the primary key to self-enhancing decision-making is to be mentally, emotionally, and psychologically prepared when decisions are required. This is especially true when the situation is triggered by particular emotions, needs, or cravings. Very often, we make bad decisions because we do not prepare ourselves, in advance, to deal with the possible, or probable, opportunities, issues, temptations, etc., that are likely to come our way.

Crunch Time provides you with the thought processes, the skills, and the Crunch Time Steps and Strategies that will prepare and empower you to make great personal and professional decisions. Equipped with this material, you can change and lift the quality of your life in the most wonderful and self-enhancing way, by making decisions that will enable you to fulfill your positive potential, achieve your dreams, and allow you to feel good — and often great — about yourself. These positive feelings, in turn, will motivate and fuel you to make more and more self-enhancing decisions. Why? Because you’ll feel that you’re worth it. And you most certainly are.

Just start making some self-enhancing decisions, and see how good you feel about yourself and your ability and power to constructively change and improve the quality of your life.

Before We Begin

At the beginning of our journey together, it’s important to recognize and remember that should some of the ensuing material seem familiar or repetitious, don’t fret. Many of us have at some time in our lives been to places where for some reason, we’ve not seen all there was to see or learned all there was to learn. Then again, sometimes seeing familiar things, situations, or individuals from another vantage point, in another context, or at a later time, can often be quite different and illuminating. Actually, it might not be until perhaps the second or third time around that we are truly ready and able to more fully appreciate someone or something for their previously overlooked real qualities and virtues. Therefore, throughout our trip together, we will utilize some familiar material as a reminder — in essence a refresher course — to help you get on, or back on, the right decision-making track.

Throughout my career, I have been exposed to many formulas for personal change and growth that rely upon the Band-Aid approach of simply changing our attitudes and our facades. In today’s world of quick fixes and superficial solutions, these theories can appear very attractive. And they may work — when things are going well. But when crises hit, deep conflicts occur, and tough choices need to be made, these matchstick foundations often fall apart, our positive facades fade or crumble, and we tend to revert back to our old, reflexive, ineffective decision-making processes and strategies for dealing with problems. All of our resolve and resolutions go — as Paul Simon sang —“slip sliding away.” The reason is: Formulas that change only facades basically focus upon changing the symptoms of our problems; they don’t deal with and eradicate or alleviate their causes. We can’t cure cancer with a spray of Bactine and a nice bandage. Deeper explorations and more intricate procedures and remedies are required.

Additionally, there are many self-help theories that deal exclusively and/or primarily with cerebral/cognitive solutions to behavioral problems. Therefore, they don’t sufficiently deal with the all-important emotional aspects of the decision-making equation. As a result, these theories often fall short, because, as we all know, our emotions often override our better judgment. Crunch Time focuses on both the cerebral and the emotional components of decision-making and behavior. The material presented herein acknowledges the awesome influence that our emotions can have on our decision- making. However, through various anticipatory, preparatory, and destructive-emotion nullifying steps, the powerful force of negative emotions that often lead us to reach self- destructive decisions can be counteracted or vitiated.

If we are to lead healthier, more constructively productive lives, and make them great; if we are to come close to fulfilling our true potential; and if we are to achieve our most cherished and precious goals, we must go to the heart of our problems, and understand them and deal with them. We must reevaluate and rebuild our decision-making foundations and processes, and solidly reinforce them with the “internal goods” that will actually allow us to attain our goals and fulfill our dreams, and continue to enjoy them over time.

The means by which we can take constructive ownership of our lives lies in how we reach our decisions.

Daniel Goleman, in his popular book Emotional Intelligence, writes that individuals with a high intelligence quotient (IQ), aren’t always the most successful navigators of real-life situations, because some of them seemingly lack the emotional intelligence of other more emotionally developed and streetwise individuals. Crunch Time takes Mr. Goleman’s book a step or two further, explaining and illustrating how you can become more emotionally intelligent (and, as a result, more self-fulfilled), by learning to make wiser, more constructive, and more self-enhancing decisions. In essence, the material in this book will equip you with the decision-making skills and Strategies that will help you to fulfill your great potential. The explanation is simple: If you can make constructive and self-enhancing decisions time after time, you put yourself in the best position to achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams.

Crunch Time is divided into three sections. The first identifies and discusses decision- making terms and concepts. These are the essential mental, psychological, and emotional building blocks that form the foundation for making constructive and self-enhancing decisions.

Section two is an in-depth study of “The Eight Crunch Time Steps” for making constructive decisions. This section also presents the “Crunch Time Decision-Making Strategies” (hereafter referred to as either “Crunch Time Strategies” or “Strategies”), as well as Strategy bullet-points called “Strata-Gems.” These Strategies and Strata-Gems have, with great consistency and efficacy, led me and my clients to make enhancing and success-evoking decisions.

Throughout Crunch Time, there are stories involving my clients to help you more fully visualize and absorb the points presented in each chapter.

Ready to begin feeling great about yourself and your decisions?

Exploring Your Decision-Making Foundation

The Concept of Crunch Time

One of the great benefits that I derived from being an athlete and studying different sports is that I learned to identify Crunch Time, and thereafter developed the ability to, in many instances, respond constructively when a Crunch Time challenge is presented to me. The other day, the news manager of a television station called me about my client, Terry. He said that he would be giving Terry a plum assignment that afternoon that would showcase Terry’s broadcasting strengths. This manager told me that Terry was one of three people who were being considered for a coveted national position, and that if my client was on his game and really showed his stuff, he would likely get the position. The manager finished our conversation by saying, “Kenny, I can’t be any clearer than this: If Terry gets it right, his career is changed for the better from here on out. It’s up to him. Starting this afternoon, it’s Crunch Time!”

The last few minutes of a close game are sometimes referred to as Crunch Time — a critical point during a sports contest in which the outcome of the game can go either way. Crunch Times are those pivotal points and defining moments when individuals are faced with significant choices. They are our opportunities to either make wise decisions and enhance ourselves and others, or to make poor and diminishing decisions, which often result in our being destructive to ourselves and to others.

As someone who counsels individuals every day regarding their making the most positive and healthy career and life decisions possible, I have found the concept of Crunch Time to be a particularly useful, effective, and visual one.

I believe that not enough attention is paid to the fact that each of us faces Crunch Times — or moments of decision — many times each day throughout our lives. For example, we often must decide whether or not we will eat or drink something that will cause us to gain weight or affect us negatively in some other way; whether or not we will light up a cigarette or cigar; whether or not we will remain in a personal or professional relationship that we know isn’t healthy for us, etc.

Crunch Times are those instances when individuals who are committed to excellence (star performers) often step up to positively and effectively meet the challenges before them. They combine presence of mind with knowledge, understanding, and educated and prepared instinct to correctly analyze the situation of the moment. These individuals then adapt their performances to make the maximum use of their analyses (by making the right and/or best choices), thereby raising the level of their games to attain a successful outcome. They turn great potential into positive reality.

This ability isn’t acquired overnight. It requires focused thought, analysis, preparation, and practice, along with great desire, enthusiasm, and tenacious persistence to achieve the sought-after goals. A proactive approach and appropriate discipline are also critical components of optimal performance at Crunch Time. One Crunch Time quality that makes all of the others viable and effective is an accurate understanding of the situation at hand and of the elements and individuals involved. True understanding of the pivotal elements that comprise a constructive decision is the foundation upon which all Crunch Time qualities are based.

“Behaviorism” — A Quick Look Back

It was during my first college psychology class that I was introduced to the works of Ivan Pavlov, B. F. Skinner, and other behavioral theorists. Do you remember the dog in Pavlov’s stimulus/response experiment? During the initial stage of that experiment, a bell would sound and a dog would immediately be fed some meat. With the repetition of this ringing and feeding scenario, as soon as the dog heard the bell, it would salivate, expecting that it would be fed. With further repetition, the dog began to reflexively salivate upon hearing the bell — even without the meat being present, which had been the initial stimulus for the salivation. In essence, when presented with a familiar situation — hearing the bell — Pavlov’s pooch reflexively and non-discerningly reacted with a behavioral pattern of response — and strategy — that it perceived had worked in the past. Other scientists took Pavlov’s findings further, by theorizing that individuals seek out pleasurable experiences and avoid painful ones. Based upon those premises, they asserted that individuals’ actions can be conditioned and reinforced, based upon the introduction of positive and negative stimuli.

While maximizing the importance of positive and negative reinforcement and their impact upon molding behavior, these theorists often minimized some of the most valuable qualities of a human being: The abilities to consciously think, analyze, reason, reflect, prepare, and choose to make value-based decisions.

Popular authors such as M. Scott Peck and Stephen Covey have pointed out that there can and should be a step between the introduction of a stimulus or event and a person’s response to it. Dr. Peck writes that this period separating stimulus from response is a time to “bracket,” or hold in abeyance, our old responses and/or behavioral patterns, and to decide whether the situation at hand calls for a new behavioral pattern, a modification of the old one, or the usual response.

It is the intervening step — or period of time — between when a stimulus or situation is presented to us and when we choose to act (constructively or destructively) that we will refer to as Crunch Time.

Crunch Times are those precious moments when we can act (as opposed to reflexively react), and consciously decide to raise the quality of our personal and professional lives, or we can compulsively react, often non-discerningly reenacting our old, inappropriate behavioral strategies, and thus diminish the quality of our lives in one way or another. It’s your goal on our journey together and throughout the rest of your life to become the best Crunch Time performer and decision-maker you can be.

Excerpted from “Crunch Time 8 Steps to Making the Right Life Decisions When It Counts,” by Ken Lindner. Copyright © 2004 by Ken Lindner. Published by Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.