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Executive Functioning 101: The Brain’s CEO

The CEO of The Brain

One basic function of the brain that comes up over and over when I’m talking with teachers, parents and clients is “Executive functioning.” The term refers to a major neurological process that influences most aspects of our lives.

What Is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning refers to the basic skills of self-management that allow us to set goals and achieve them. The process takes place in the frontal lobes of the brain, and this function is often referred to as the “CEO” of the brain.

Executive Functions Are:

  • The ability to manage emotions and impulses
  • Understanding how to break down tasks into manageable steps
  • Knowing where to begin with larger projects
  • Accurately estimating how long tasks may take
  • Being able to “self-start” and “continue” with mundane tasks
  • Establishing and following daily routines
  • Staying organized and being able to prioritize
  • Exercising impulse control
  • Being able to self-monitor, judge efficacy, and be flexible to make necessary adjustments
  • Maintaining emotional control and limiting outbursts

When there is a deficit in executive functioning skills in children, there may be dramatic, visible consequences. These problems often last into adulthood.

Weaknesses Or Underdevelopment Can Lead To:

  • An increase in stress, anxiety, and depression
  • A sense of failure and propensity towards giving up
  • A reduction in performance Work/School or family conflict
  • Negative and defeatist feelings towards oneself, impacting self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Problems in social relationships

A weakness in executive functioning is not related to “smartness” or “intellect” but it does impact the ability to lead a productive life.  The good news is that it’s never too late to address the brain’s CEO and make changes. Research shows that the brain is highly adaptive, even into adulthood (read more about neuroplasticity here)

Simple Tips To Improve Executive Functioning:

Organization and Motivation
  • Establish a consistent routine
  • Make and use lists to prioritize demands
  • Limit potential distractions (visual, auditory, electronic)
  • Work in bursts with frequent breaks
  • Break larger responsibilities/projects into smaller steps
    • TRY IT-“Clean Room” becomes:
      • Put cups in the kitchen
      • Stack books
      • Put away toys
      • Make Bed
      • Pick up clothes on the floor
Emotional Control
  • Take deep breaths and allow for self-directed “timeouts.”
  • Develop a coping strategy “toolbox” for managing emotions (for tips, check out this toolbox list).
  • Provide a nonjudgemental space to talk about, empathize and challenge thoughts and emotions
  • Exercise: physical movement helps to regulate the neurochemicals in the brain that modulate emotional control (In other words, it makes you feel better so you can tolerate more)!
  • Recognize situations that tend to lead to “meltdowns” and take steps to alter those situations.
    • TRY IT- “Getting ready for school” becomes
      • Pack school bag the night before
      • Check school planner the night before to ensure work is complete
      • Make a good breakfast
      • Start with ample time

Interested In More Like This?

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Elevate Counseling provides Individual Counseling, Group Therapy, and In-Home/School Executive Functioning Plans. For additional resources and support contact us!

Jamie Dana

Jamie Dana

Jamie Dana, MC, LPC, helps teens and adults overcome mental roadblocks and achieve their goals to live an elevated life. Specialties include research-based interventions to address stress and anxiety, trauma, self-esteem, eating issues and struggles of the gifted and high-achieving population. For more information about her techniques, services and additional resources to help you succeed, check her out at www.elevatecounselingaz.com or follow us on facebook. You can also Contact her to schedule an initial appointment today