Skills for Living Life Fully: Executive Functions by Devyn Carter, MA

Our minds are always busy at work, constantly navigating the challenges we face each day. Routinely, we are required to pay close attention to an activity or task, despite possible fatigue, boredom, or distractions (sustained attention), remain aware of deadlines or limits (time management), follow through with a task to its completion (goal-directed persistence), or move quickly from one situation to another at a moments notice (flexibility), among other occurrences. This can be daunting for some.
 
Executive functions are a set of cognitive processes that are utilized to navigate our daily environments. These processes include working memory, response inhibition, planning, organizing, prioritizing, sustained attention, flexibility, emotional control, task initiation, time management, goal-directed persistence, and metacognition (the ability to take a step back and evaluate one’s own behaviors).
 
Beginning in early childhood, executive functions develop gradually and change across the lifespan of an individual. By the time we enter school, we have established a set of behaviors and cognitive processes that result in smooth or bumpy experiences as we navigate our environments. This continues throughout our development and into adulthood.
 
Those who experience challenges with their executive functions are often very intelligent, capable people who simply have not had the opportunity to learn and practice specific executive functions. A result is often that intelligent, capable, creative people experience a sense of loss of personal control in their lives. This can result in self-doubt, negative self-talk, and overall feelings of incompetence. Ongoing challenges with executive functioning skills can lead to anxiety, poor job performance, feelings of inadequacy, problems in relationships, parenting challenges, a stressful personal life, and even depression.
 
For those struggling with executive functioning, the good news is that due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, it is possible to build new patterns of thought and behavior. Executive Functions are skill sets… nothing more, nothing less… With education, time and practice, neural pathways can be rerouted. New skills create new ways of living and being in the world.  This opens up each of us to explore our own unlimited potential.