Folks with executive function difficulties often worry about whether they are procrastinating a task out of laziness, mental health struggles, or if they are simply being a jerk. Executive functions are critical in getting-things-done infrastructure, so if the problem is brain based rather than laziness, knowing what they are can be really important! Here’s a quick review:
Emotional control is your ability to manage your feelings- not just after the fact, but when you are
having the feelings. If you’re having trouble identifying and managing your emotions and how your
emotions sit in your body, you can have a harder time focusing and thinking clearly.
Working memory is the part of our brain that allows us to dial a phone number without having to look it
up again halfway through, process the sentence that a friend just told us, and work through data sets.
It’s essentially the “sketchpad” of our brain that allows us to integrate information and react.
(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898679/) This is how we are able to sequence what we need to do, and when working memory isn’t working well people tend to say they’re having trouble focusing or are absentminded.
Inhibition is the skill set we need to not charge forward with a previously learned response that might
not be necessary at the moment. This is what helps us adapt to what is happening, shut out unnecessary
information, and pay attention to what will actually help us move forward. When this isn’t working well,
people tend to get overwhelmed by “background noise” or have trouble not doing every single thing
that pops into their head. Initiation is the ability to start a task. And well, you clicked into a blog about procrastination so we can
probably assume you’re having some trouble with this one.
Set Shifting is how we change what we’re paying attention to as needed. Basically this is the part in ADHD that sets the “hyperfocus” loop going- this is the thing that hits the difficulty with transitioning activities, and also sets people up for “I can only do this thing in this exact way” type of rigidity.
Fluency is how you think of things in the same category without repeating responses. Folks who have
trouble with this often have trouble finding the word that they’re looking for, and generally struggle with organization and initiation of tasks
Planning and prioritization: this is a function skill that relies pretty heavily on working memory and
fluency working together with inhibition. Much of prioritization is knowing what you can ignore, and planning means that you need to have a mental sketchpad available.
Self Monitoring also known as “insight” is how well you assess your own performance. This function is really important for being able to improve your performance over time, and so if it’s not working well you will often need outside help to see where you are getting stuck. These functions can get screwed up in a number of different ways from developmental genetic issues
like ADHD to physical trauma like concussions to illnesses.
Everyone struggles with executive function issues sometimes, but some of us may struggle with these things more than others. These brain tools are highly impacted by stress, self care, and community.
Want to see if you have executive function difficulties?.... stay tuned for the test!