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Understanding Executive Functioning

What is "executive functioning"?

The term "executive functioning" relates to a cluster of functions which are critical to our brain's capacity to:

  • Plan Tasks

  • Organise Tasks

  • Prioritise Tasks

  • Initiate Tasks

  • Complete Tasks

They also relate to our capability to 

  • Regulate our Emotions

  • Manage and Sustain our Effort and Motivation

Both of which are critical to our productivity and effectiveness in selecting actions and seeing them through to their conclusion.

The Importance of Executive Functioning

Collectively our Executive Functions are critical to driving and sustaining Goal Orientated Behaviour, particularly in relation to our pursuit of medium to long term goals, where there is no immediate gratification (or consequence) to motivate us to act.

They are central to our Performance, Productivity and Perseverance in the Pursuit of Goals.


  • Working out what needs to be done?

  • Working out the steps needed to do it?

  • Working out the resources needed to do it?

  • Learning the skills needed to do it?

  • Recalling and applying the skills needed to do it?


  • Working out the order in which to do things?

  • Managing the time available in which to do things?

  • Establishing the relative urgency of component tasks.

  • Sustaining attention and focus on the task in hand (managing distractions and competing interests).


  • Making adjustments to stay on track and remain aligned to the overall Goal.

  • Sustaining momentum to see the Goal through to completion.

  • Responding positively to setbacks, frustrations and obstacles.

  • Retaining faith in our capacity and capability to complete the Goal.

Deficits in Executive Functioning

Many people struggle with specific areas of Executive Functioning particularly when faced with:

  • Difficult or Seemingly Overwhelming Goals.

  • Too Many Conflicting Responsibilities

  • Sustained periods of Stress

  • New Challenges or enforced Changes which take them outside of their "comfort zone"

Additionally some people are born with weaker executive functioning skills than others.

Struggles with "executive functioning" are an integral component of, or highly implicated in, a range of neurological  and developmental conditions including:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  • Dyslexia

  • Dyspraxia

  • Autism

They are also evident in, or exacerbated in their severity by, mood disorders including:

  • Depression

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Anxiety Disorders

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