Understanding Executive Functioning
What is "Executive Functioning"?
The Control and Management Centre of the Brain.
Our "executive functions" refer to a cluster of functions which can be conceptualised as the Control and Management Centre of the Brain.
A simple analogy is to think of them as an Air Traffic Controller and the Conductor of an Orchestra rolled into one.
Much like an Air Traffic Controller controls and regulates the flow of airplanes into an airport our "executive functions" are central to our capacity to process, control and regulate the flow of information reaching our brain.
Additionally, much like a Conductor co-ordinates and unifies the many elements of an orchestra, and regulates their tempo, to optimally perform a single piece of music, our "executive functions" are critical to our capacity to co-ordinate, order and assimilate the relevant pieces of information available to us, and regulate our behaviour, to optimally perform a specific task.
The Importance of Executive Functioning Skills.
Our "executive functions" are central to our capability to effectively navigate the complexities of every aspect of day-to-day life.
They are the background processes that allow us to be more effective at the things that we do, both in our own eyes, and critically in the judgments and assumptions that other people make of us.
Executive Functions Underpin Goal Oriented Behaviour.
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, Exhaustion or Burn-Out.
New Challenges or enforced Changes which take them outside of their "comfort zone".
Situations where they perceive a lack of control or ability to influence the outcome.
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).
They are also evident in, or exacerbated in their severity by, mood disorders including:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The Core Skills Associated with "executive functioning"
The ability to recognise when it is time to make a start on something and to begin without procrastinating.
planning and prioritisation
The ability to create steps to reach a goal and to make decisions about the relative importance and urgency of each step.
The ability to create and maintain systems and structures to keep track of information or materials.
The ability to use time productively and smartly to maximise output in relation to effort.
The ability to hold information in mind and use, manipulate and link it to complete a task.
The ability to direct and maintain attention to fully concentrate on the task in hand.
goal directed persistence
The ability to see a goal through to completion whilst managing distractions and competing interests.
The ability to transition seamlessly and efficiently from one task to another.
The ability to pause to consider available courses of action rather than acting impulsively.
The ability to manage feelings and emotions and use them constructively to support the pursuit of goals.
The ability to understand our own thought processes and how they are influencing our choices, actions, decisions, and behaviour.