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Executive Functioning


The term -- “Executive Functioning Skills” -- gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean


According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, EF skills are “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

Sound daunting?

Thankfully, there is an art and a science to these skills. And, once you’ve learned them, they can become instinctive (You can go on automatic pilot!). They will serve you well for life, in ALL areas of your life. 

Let’s break it down: EF enables us to...  

  1. Know ourselves,

  2. Self-regulate,

  3. Learn and develop, and

  4. Engage in positive, healthy, and productive lives


The 8 Areas of EF

  1. Emotional Control - ability to understand and regulate our feelings

  2. Inhibition - ability to control our thoughts and actions

  3. Working Memory - ability for forms to memory (visual, auditory, spatial, etc.) to work together 

  4. Initiation - ability to begin a task

  5. Planning and Prioritization - ability to envision ourselves working on a task and recognize what is needed to complete said task 

  6. Shift - ability to adapt and adjust as circumstances shift 

  7. Organization - ability to arrange ideas and objects logically and efficiently 

  8. Self-monitoring - ability to understand one’s own behavior and track how one is doing 

The emotional state we are in affects how well we can use our EF skills. 

  • A “hot” state means that we are under stress, emotions are high, and we feel the urge to flee, fight, or freeze; in this state, our EF skills may be impaired. 

  • A “cold” state means that our emotions are well-regulated and we feel safe and balanced; in this state, our EF skills are able to be used effectively. 

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