What are executive functions?
Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills and abilities that help people set goals, strategize to achieve goals, adapt when necessary, and persist through to completion. They are described as goal-directed behaviors. Executive functions help us navigate changing circumstances and problem-solving. Three core executive functions (inhibitory controls, working memory, and cognitive flexibility) form the foundation for higher order skills. Many scholars use different models to define and identify these higher order skills (check out Adele Diamond, Peg Dawson + Richard Guare, Lynn Meltzer, Tom Brown, Russell Barkley, and so many more!). At New Frontiers, we focus efforts on the following higher order skills:
- Goal Setting
- Time Management
- Planning & Prioritizing
- Task Initiation
- Goal-Directed Persistence
What is executive function coaching?
All of our work is based on these goal-directed behaviors. Executive functions help us set and achieve goals. They direct our strategies and efforts. There are three main parts to this process – (1) Setting goals, (2) Developing/adapting strategies, (3) Following through with strategies. We like to think of executive function coaching as a personal trainer for the brain. You often start with a personal trainer to develop new work out routines (or strategies!), and then continue on with the personal trainer to be accountable in following through with using those strategies.
Our process for working on executive function skills and strategies is not isolated from the goals. Just like you learn how to ride a bike by…riding a bike, or driving a car by…driving a car, we believe that you work on executive functioning skills while using them in action. Since these executive functions are goal-directed behaviors, you can’t work on them without working towards goals. You can’t prioritize tasks unless there is some goal that you are working towards, just like managing time is meaningless in a vacuum.
Understanding executive functions, and understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, is the first step towards bettering ourselves. By learning more about the “CEO of the brain,” we empower individuals to work on setting goals, developing strategies, and achieving what they set out to do.