How well do you REALLY function?

Soldiering ON with less
than Optimal Functioning™
when we could REALLY have a much easier time of it

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
part of the Executive Functioning Series
May is Mental Health Awareness Month!

Do you suffer from boiling frog syndrome?

You’ve probably already heard the story about cooking frogs by putting them in cold or tepid water, then slowly bringing it to a boil — even though they would have jumped out immediately if they were suddenly thrust into hot water.

Other versions of the story assert that, as long as the temperature increases slowly, the frog is able to adjust its body temperature to remain comfortable — until it ultimately becomes too weak to jump out before it’s cooked.

Just a myth, but apt

According to an interesting article on Wikipedia, neither version is true, but the analogy is perfect: as things slowly but steadily worsen, most of us adjust and accommodate, even when we could find ourselves in much better situations if we’d only react more quickly and reach out for help.

  • In my 25+ year coaching career, only a rare few individuals ever reached out for help or brain-based information until they were practically desperate, and almost all had been leading what I call “limp-along lives” for years.
  • More than a few had been taking pricey vacations or eating lunches in restaurants to get away from the stress of the work environment, or indulging in daily caffeine fixes at several dollars a pop, still convinced that they couldn’t afford coaching fees — until they felt they “had no choice.”

For YEARS it only made sense in the context of Boiling Frog Syndrome.

Even if they were cracker-jack “over-achievers” when they were younger, they contributed their functional and cognitive slow-down to aging
. . .  or the demands of parenthood
. . . or the increasing complexities of modern life
. . . or the rise of social media expectations

. . . or anything other than being flat-out worn down by repeated, unrecognized struggles with Executive Functioning they never understood how to overcome.

So What Goes Wrong?

It’s mentally and physically exhausting to continue to swim upstream.

  • As long as you are swimming with the current you get carried downstream with much less thrashing about on your part.
  • Not only that, when you’re swimming upstream, if you stop stroking for even a minute, your life goes backwards.  Nobody can keep up that kind of effort.
  • Before you realize it you are swimming alone, unhappy that life is so much work, but not really expecting it to be easier because you’ve always had to “work twice as hard for half as much” — or so it seems to you in your most private of thoughts.
  • You begin to believe that everybody struggles in the same fashion, but suspect that the others are somehow better able to cope than you are.

But it doesn’t have to be that way

It recently occurred to me that many people don’t reach out for help, perhaps, because they have forgotten (or have never really known) what effective focus and follow-through look like.

They’re falling victim to “that happens to everybody”
or “this is the best I can expect from myself” thinking
to explain and attempt to accept their various challenges.

Things can get WORSE as time goes by . . .

because each new skill must build on the ones before it.

If you never learned to add or subtract, multiplication and division would remain a mystery.

If you never really mastered basic arithmetic, how could anyone expect you to do well as you moved through school?

Similar to moving from basic arithmetic to higher math, learning how to manage life’s many challenges is also an incremental, multi-stepped process.

So, for the next few Mondays, I am going to detail the problems many of my clients had been putting up with because ““that happens to everybody,” and do my best to explain what’s behind the struggle — in the hopes that I will finally inspire more of you to spend a few months working with me to turn things around before you feel like you are about to crash and burn.

Lets START by taking a look at some of the problems
that are NOT “normal” functioning.

Remember that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

HOVER before clicking – often a box will appear to tell you what to expect

Manifestations of executive functioning struggles

Executive functioning challenges can produce a wide range of symptoms in wide variety of individuals — as well as in the same individual in various environments, at various times, or as they age.

This, in turn, results in a variety of other problems in areas that are impacted by the lack of top notch cognition.

SO REMEMBER as you read: very few individuals exhibit everything on the list below, and almost all of them will experience additional struggles with things that aren’t listed at all — more challenging than they need to be.

Depending on which EF challenges are the strongest (as well as how important they are to the initiation or completion of any particular task), you might see any number of the problems below.

They will show up in the guise of varying types of troubling situations for you and those around you – ongoing challenges with Executive Functions that could certainly be improved with a little information and and a bit of help developing work-arounds and new habits.

(CLICK HERE for a prior list by type of task)

  • Difficulty making decisions
    (For example, stuck in the “research” phase or avoiding/delaying decision-intensive tasks, etc.)
  • Struggles getting started, or figuring out WHERE to begin
    (Trouble seeing the main idea or the task objective; easily overwhelmed attempting to chunk tasks into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks and/or figure out which to do first, needlessly over-complicating,etc.)
  • Trouble switching gears — with transitions of various types
    (Sleep/wake, work/home, chores/leisure time, etc. — switching from one activity to another)
  • Inability to stick to a plan or activity – and/or – inability to abandon it (even with the awareness of potential penalties for getting off schedule)
  • Micro/Macro issues –
    (Moderate ability to focus on small details and/or on the overall picture, with low ability to track both in tandem, or to switch between them in response to task demands)

Bean Counter

  • Task pacing fluctuations – troubles maintaining timing-appropriate attention to detail
    (Rushing through tasks that require more detailed attention, or obsessing over details so that deadlines are missed and other projects ignored)
  • Limited self-awareness and low ability to self-evaluate.
    (Impaired self-monitoring abilities: may believe they are doing poorly when they are on-track, or doing well when they are not; unaware consciously that they’ve wandered off-task, lacking a clear understanding of their need to check their level of engagement or their work)

  • Difficulties incorporating feedback
    (Lack of understanding about what they are supposed to DO with the feedback, frequently defensive, sometimes oppositional, often troubles with accepting what they believe is negative feedback, overreacting to perceived injustices or problems getting started on a task – or finishing it when something upsets them.)
  • Overfocusing — Cognitive inflexibility and black and white thinking
    (Seeming inability to change course when a specific strategy or plan isn’t working – lack of awareness of alternate possibilities – or objections to trying something new, different, or unfamiliar)
  • Trouble sustaining attention on tasks, instructions, feedback, or even everyday conversations
    (Easily distracted, losing train of thought or thread of conversation with interruptions, or registering only the first or last thing said – missing modifiers like “don’t” or “never;” needing to be told task or locational directions many times before they “stick”)
  • Difficulties finding the words to explain their experience
    (Needing help processing – or prompting to be able to describe – what something feels/sounds/looks like – or explaining what it is they need help understanding)
  • Inability or difficulty thinking about or doing more than one thing at a time effectively
    (Yet frequently resistant to doing only one thing at a time, chronically multi-tasking with little to no awareness of the negative impact on the ability to focus to complete tasks effectively)

Found on FaceBook

  • Problems organizing or keeping track of things
    (including information)
  • Remembering or recalling information best in a specific manner, otherwise struggling to retain it
    (For example, requiring specific cues like acronyms or mnemonics, or remembering information primarily when they have personally repeated each step aloud –  or written them all down, or read over them on a typed list, etc.)
  • Insistent on – or picky about – seemingly “extraneous” things as necessary to task initiation or completion
    (For example, typed instructions vs. neatly hand-written, fountain pen vs. ballpoint, college-ruled paper only – or never, etc.)

Little Problems become Bigger Problems

These issues, in and of themselves are not the problem, especially when taken one by one, even when they show up in a more pervasive manner, as with many individuals in the autism spectrum community.

  • The problem is the steady drip-drip-drip of their cumulative impact on life.
  • The problem is how much additional time it takes to handle details appropriately or recover from chronic oopses.
  • The problem is magnified when you aren’t fully aware that you have a problem with Executive Functioning.
  • The BIG problem comes when you don’t know how to get what you need, or have difficulty insisting upon it for fear of making waves over what seems like such a little detail but is actually a significant problem for you.

More to come

In future posts we’ll explore more about Executive Functioning struggles and their implications, along with what’s needed to learn to swim with the current, so stay tuned. Getting real about what’s going on just might allow you to let yourself reach out for help.

Check out some of the links above and the Related Content below for self-help and a few success stories. Life doesn’t have to be so hard.

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IN ANY CASE, do stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related articles right here on
(in case you missed them above or below)

A Few LinkLists by Category (to articles here on

Related Articles ’round the net

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

79 Responses to How well do you REALLY function?

  1. Pingback: Reaching the Boiling Point | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Executive Functioning & Diseases of Aging | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. reocochran says:

    Oh, this is so true of my forties! I was a balancing act gone awry, as well as my pastor/advisor saying she saw me as “barely treading water!” Almost like boiling in that froggy water, Madelyn. Yikes! . . .
    I am really heading towards bed so take care and hugs xo

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mistermuse says:

    I don’t have any “executive functioning struggles” because I’ve never been an executive, however if you have any non-suggestive suggestions for ‘husband functioning struggles’ (other than “Yes, dear,” I’m all ears (well, not really, but maybe it would help if I were). 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A wonderful and informative article, Madelyn. I read your list very carefully and am relieved to note that I don’t seem to have trouble with any of those things [at the moment]. My stress isn’t usually work related but rather comes from the state of the nation and world although this doesn’t derail me. I look forward to reading the next edition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Robbie.

      Looking at your life from what you share online and how much you are able to DO, it seems obvious that your executive functioning is excellent – and that you are able to “coach” Michael to overcome his challenges as well.

      My own EF challenges are severely exacerbated by my concern for what is happening politically – and the unthinking cruelty that is supported by so many. I’m right with you on that one.

      And, of course, stress negatively impacts the PFC (and shortens telomeres, which negatively impacts healthy aging) – so all of us must find ways to manage stress, whatever the source.


  6. dgkaye says:

    Looking forward to this interesting series. I think at this time in the world so many of us are swimming upstream. We could all use a little downstroking. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 2 people

  7. John Fioravanti says:

    Thanks for this very informative post, Madelyn – I’m learning all kinds of things from your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear it, John, ’cause I learn all kinds of things from your post too! That’s what I love about the blogging community – we each share our interests, education and expertise, and everybody’s “small talk” gets a lot bigger! 🙂

      Only last nite (at Tinkie’s Cheers bar on Trivia Nite – during the time the teams all had to answer the moderator’s questions), I was talking about a bit of history I had just read on your blog! I’m still no help on Tink’s team with the actual Trivia questions – lol.

      Liked by 1 person

      • John Fioravanti says:

        Happy to be helpful on your Trivia Nite! You’re so right – we do learn from each other!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think that’s why God throws us together – to expand each other’s horizons by learning new things.

          Life would quickly get boring if we limited ourselves to what we *already* know about and explore – and empathy would be in even shorter supply in the world.


          • John Fioravanti says:

            You are very wise, Madelyn – I’m glad God threw me in your direction – great catch!

            Liked by 1 person

            • DITTO! I didn’t have history teachers who were interesting to me, so I’ve had to learn everything I know through books and plays and now super history bloggers like you & GP (WWII).

              If you taught history today, would you encourage your students to blog history?

              Liked by 1 person

            • John Fioravanti says:

              Knowing what I know now about blogging, yes, I’d encourage students today to blog about history and to check out some history blogs. Thanks for the compliment! All history is, is recorded human behavior + interpretations – therefore why do some people have to make it boring? Human behavior is fascinating!

              Liked by 1 person

            • I’ve run into a couple of sites where I believe the students are required to blog – given the titles of their posts. Maybe that is how they turn in their homework but, in my experience, the fastest way to turn kids off to learning is to insist on the format in which they report back! (make it “extra credit” and they’re all about it!) 🙂

              My history teachers seemed to think it was all about dates and names (and memory tests) – none of which capture the imagination. No surprise that I learned more about the world from English teachers vs. my history or geography classes.

              I’ll bet I would have LOVED history if you had taught me back in the day.


  8. -Eugenia says:

    Madelyn, you gave so much to offer in your posts. This is so helpful – not only in understanding ourselves, but others, as well. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We love that story of the “boiling frog syndrome” and have used it so often. It is a real concept and if we are not careful it is so easy to fall into. So many truths here… Have been to that point of drowning but refusing to admit it and out of pride not reaching out for help. It is a very scary place to be and soooo easy to fall into. We think nothing of running to the Dr. for a muscle ache but when we have an emotional ache we are afraid to reach for help out of fear that we aren’t normal. Great points here Madelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lack of mental health awareness and information — and STIGMA! Reducing same is why I began my monthly Awareness calendars.

      On one of my PTSD posts [When Fear Becomes Entrenched & Chronic] I actually began with a comment like yours above – how we have no problem allowing ourselves to reach out for help with physical ailments but hide in the closet when the struggle is “invisible” and mental. It went on to describe what it took to get ME to reach out – even though I know better.

      I can’t believe you had to “almost drown” to get YOU to reach out for help. When and where?

      Liked by 1 person

      • “STIGMA” is a big one for sure. We feel like we failed at life or something. For me it was God tapping on my shoulder to get my attention. But being a slow sheep He took me to my knees which is exactly where he wanted me. Broken He then put me back together. Oh yeah, had 9 out of 10 but really had all 10 but didn’t admit it. Like I said… He knew how to get my attention. The experience made me sooo much better in my field in not only working with the client but later when responsible for large numbers of staff. Once ya been there you can identify it more clearly in others as you and so many others know.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. omtatjuan3 says:

    Excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a fabulous and informative post! Thanks so much for linking to my post on Executive Function and Bipolar Disorder.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for this wonderful share Madelyn and so informative and encouraging words. You are an awesome Coach and I must say loved the entire post of yours. It is so nice to have people like you who are so inspiring and encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. that was great to read… and I think that’s egg-sactly the point… it it happens slowly and bit by bit we accept it some day as common…. thanks that you made me pondering today… I will try to jump out of the pot before the water starts to boil ;o)

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This is a beginning of great and very helpful series – I’ll be looking forward to the next installments. Very well done!

    Liked by 2 people

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