Executive Functions & YOU


Executive Functioning
for Optimal Functioning™
What’s involved and what can go wrong?

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
another part of the Executive Functioning Series

MORE folks on Team EFD than folks with ADD/ADHD

The executive system is a carefully orchestrated combination of processes that, together, merge and mingle to make us human and to make us, well, us!

These functions continually work together to help us manage hundreds of cognitive and practical tasks of life, day in and day out.

Not only that, they do it in the blink of an eye, and primarily below the level of our conscious awareness. At least, they do it that way when everything is on board and working “normally.”

New here? Read What ARE Executive Functions? for more description & detail.

The area of the brain that makes possible many of the wonderful cognitive abilities differentiating humans from the rest of the mammals is the frontal third of the outer layer of the human brain, referred to as the pre-frontal cortex [PFC], right behind the forehead:

  • the last part of our brains to evolve,
  • the last part of our brains to develop in the womb,
  • and the last part of our brains to mature as we grow up

And it’s fragile

The PFC is especially vulnerable to damage — both before and after birth.

The living brain is soft, floating around inside a fluid filled environment keeping it from bumping up against the inside of a hard skull that, in turn, is protecting the fragile brain itself.

Your PFC can be injured very easily bumping up against that bony skull, even when no direct hit to the head was involved in the original incident.

Anything that makes the brain “slosh around” in the fluid in a manner that causes it to come in contact with the skull results in at least minor brain damage, and the PFC is often involved.

Read: How Do Brains Get Damaged?  Is YOURS?

THAT means that in addition to individuals with disorders, stroke or some type of substance-promoted damage affecting the PFC, anyone who’s been involved in almost any sort of accident is likely to experience brain-based executive functioning challenges of one sort or another.

It also means that most adults have at least a few EF issues, not only individuals with:

  • mood disorders (anxiety & depression included)
  • autistic and attentional spectrum disorders
  • TBI/ABI,
  • Parkinson’s
  • dyslexia & dyscalculia
  • more than a few neurological conditions such as
    sensory integration disorders 

in fact, almost all of what I refer to as the alphabet disorders — as well as, currently, MOST of us over 45, as the memory centers begin to age.

So what does THAT mean?

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More Executive Functions than you probably realize

As I briefly reviewed above, “Executive Functions” are what we call the integrated set of mental skills that make effective management of the cognitive tasks of daily living possible.

Those functions include, among others:

  • tasks with intensive working and short-term memory requirements
  • anything that necessitates an inner awareness of the passage of TIME
  • activities where a reliable sense of direction is important
  • ALL tasks requiring adequate attentional skills, which means a relatively strong ability to:

1-focus on the intended object,
2-sustain the focus, and/or
3-shift focus at will

They are all brain-based processes that allow us to be ABLE to do things like:

  1. Self-monitor
  2. Ride herd on impulse control and emotional regulation
  3. Plan, sequence, prioritize, schedule, and activate to task-completion
  4. Estimate time to completion and monitor time elapsed
  5. Retain cognitive focus despite everyday distractions
  6. Switch gears and get back on track when interrupted
  7. Analyze ideas and think through concepts, especially as they apply to life-management
  8. Keep track to evaluate performance on everyday tasks

Which are foundational abilities to be able to do things like these:

  1. Participate appropriately in conversations
    (without blurting, interrupting, changing the subject, or “drifting off”)
  2. Apply previously learned information and strategies toward new problems
    (lifelong learning, as well as getting through educational or workplace training)
  3. Organize – an environment or a schedule – and maintain it
  4. Keep life from becoming a protracted scavenger hunt
    (where we are continually looking for misplaced objects due to
    lack of focus leading to impaired registration)
  5. Follow directions & jump through multi-step tasks
  6. Understand when more information or assistance is needed
    (relatively clear when, why or how to ask for help —
    with few difficulties accepting help when offered)
  7. Keep track of and follow through on promises
    (including work and school assignments
    as well as personal promises made to loved ones)
  8. Overcome or work around any number of the many of the Challenges listed in a prior article here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com, Symptoms of Attentional Struggles

IN OTHER WORDS, the brain’s Executive Functions consist of a collection of mental abilities that help our brains organize information in a manner that we are able act on it – and DO act on it!

STRONG Executive Functioning skills, as long as we have sufficient motivation, enable us to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks relatively quickly and easily.

With weak executive functioning skills, and without help developing strategies and work-arounds, handling even the simplest of tasks can frequently be complete stoppers.

Recalling a specific term, name or date (or the reason we walked into the next room) for example, could be almost as big a challenge as completing an assignment or adhering to a schedule!

What do I mean by complete stoppers?

  • Avoiding tasks & activities that require information you don’t have readily at hand – for an unusually long time.
  • Procrastinating “endlessly” because the tiered tasks of finding what you need to complete something you need to do makes you hesitant to even begin it.
  • Moving on to something else “for now” – and only much later realizing what you intended to do instead is still undone – reload, repeat!
  • Hyperfocusing on something less urgent or important until you run out of time – day after day. (Um, didn’t you promise your wife you would begin cleaning out the garage as you headed out the door? So why are you detailing the car?)

Everything is fuzzy when the PFC is doing a sub-par job!

(Don’t forget, helping clients work around and overcome EF Challenges
is what I DO – privately and with groups!  And I’d love to do it 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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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.

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

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— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

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

A Few LinkLists by Category (to articles here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com)

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!"

89 Responses to Executive Functions & YOU

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  6. Wendy says:

    I was reading your article and kept thinking how when the rest of the body is not working right, the brain often has a hard time too.

    Right now I’m having Akathisia from a medication. (I’m off the med, but the side effects haven’t left yet)

    This sense of restlessness and agitation is causing a lot of cognitive issues. I can’t concentrate on anything. It’s really driving me crazy.

    But don’t you find that one thing can affect the other? Or am I just grasping because I’m miserable?
    xo. ~♡

    Liked by 1 person

    • FIRST – I am SO sorry you are miserable, my dear sweet Wendy – especially as a side effect of a medication that was supposed to help. I hope this “movement disorder” subsides soon – you certainly do not need still more to have to deal with. EVEN worse than RLS, which is misery enough (restless leg syndrome) — Akathisia affects your whole body, as well as your legs, waking as well as when you try to sleep! Are they SURE they know which medication caused the side-effects?

      Second, I want to assure you that you are by no means grasping at straws or imagining your cognitive struggles as a result.

      You are absolutely right – some of the “causes” of EFDs are physical problems as the result of illness or medication side-effects. All kinds of attentional issues can result, and not just from the distraction of your symptoms. Your brain is as “busy” as your body – and, of course, your brain is the source of the Akathisia (which is why it is often referred to as “psychosomatic”). Supposedly, the resultant EFD passes, when/if the Akathisia subsides — unlike some of the other EFD’s by the way.

      Anyone curious about Akathisiabasic article found HERE — written by a Fellow in the Psychosomatic Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at NYC’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wendy says:

        Thank you Madelyn. I’m feeling a bit better today. Hopefully I’m on the mend.
        Yes we know what med caused it, but the med they switched me to made it worse! She was trying not to change up too much because of the danger of making my moods go wonky. But we have started over with a different antidepressant.
        Cross your fingers!
        Thank you for your kind response and all the information. xo
        ~♡

        Liked by 1 person

        • So glad to read you’re feeling a bit better. Be patient with yourself. Performance pressure will only make it more difficult to access your executive functions — shuts down the PFC as it wakes up Mr. Amygdala. (Maybe I need to work on the “PFC shutdown” article next!)
          xx,
          mgh

          Like

  7. Soul Gifts says:

    This is so interesting, Madelyn. I can think of several people who have major issues with Executive functioning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Raili. It is quite the challenge – and most of us have at least one “quirky” friend who is actually a text book case. It becomes more common as we age, btw..

      A friend of mine (who always sort of made fun of my systems set to work with my challenges with ADD) had the following to say, when aging delivered his own membership card:

      “I can’t remember anything anymore – can’t get much of anything done – am always looking for things! How have you managed all these years?!”

      “Quite well, thank you,” was my response, “Need some help?”

      HOWEVER, I must admit the words I did NOT say were, “Yeah, not so funny when it happens to you, is it? I’ve had to deal with what you describe my entire life!
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • Soul Gifts says:

        So many thinks it’s fun to be critical of others – until they find themselves in the same situation! I am getting better at looking after myself – with age comes wisdom 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • If we’re lucky! Sometimes life itself drags us into wisdom’s territory *before* we have much age on us too– as long as we walk through with our eyes wide open.

          I’m sure my friend had no idea that he would be perceived as being critical when he poked fun. Humor can mask more than criticism, however, and is frequently entertaining *only* to the speaker.
          xx,
          mgh

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for these informative posts, Madelyn, my PFC is growing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol – it doesn’t really “grow” – but the development of new connections to the other parts of the brain make it seem like it does. Thanks so much – ALWAYS – for your comment love.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lol – I thought you’d get a kick out of that. Your posts contain brand new info and I can feel my PFC stretching! You’re most welcome, dear. Hugs 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

        • I DID, John – and I am so glad I can share something you don’t already know!
          xx,
          mgh

          Like

          • There’s lots for you to teach me, Madelyn! Fortunately, I have the ability to pass these things along. Hugs!

            Liked by 1 person

            • You can take the teacher out of the school, but once a teacher, always a teacher! It’s a turn on to enlighten others, isn’t it? I always love your “today in history” lessons – and I’ll bet you love putting those together.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Shhhh, Madelyn – I’ve been trying to keep that a secret! I enjoy these posts because I’m learning a lot of stuff I didn’t know – just sharing. Thanks for your kind words.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Same here with my monthly Mental Health Awareness posts. I have learned SO much researching those “days.”

              We have that love of learning in common, and both seem to want to turn that on in others.

              If the teachers of the education curriculum at my undergrad school had made their classes more interesting I might even have become an academic. I loved teaching classes when I was in grad school.

              Probably wouldn’t have lasted long enough to get tenure, however – too “rule-bound” an environment and waaaay too much administrivia for my younger self to tolerate. 🙂 And with what’s going on with education in America TODAY, I’d probably be out for blood!

              De Voss – totally unqualified to even have an opinion on the topic, much less lead the charge. God help us all!
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie does a wonderful job explaining Executive Functions of the brain. Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

    • AH – here’s the notice (after I already found it on your blog as was off to read the latest ‘Believe it or Not.’ Thank you SO much for the reblog! Left my reactions to your own latest post in a comment there, btw.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, dear – and you’re welcome! I’ll track down your comment!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Miranda, et. al. — as usual, it’s a long one – lol.
          xx,
          mgh

          Liked by 1 person

          • I didn’t know the story behind the Miranda rights. At least he left a positive legacy before his demise at a poker game. Thanks fir your comment! Hugs.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Can’t help it, John. I always feel the pull to share my reactions to your highly informative posts. It’s that time thing . . . otherwise I’d keep you busy reading most of the nite on dozens of comments. Thank goodness for small favors? 🙂
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • I always welcome your insights, Madelyn. That way we all learn something worthwhile! 🤗

              Liked by 1 person

            • I always love the interaction in the comments. It’s how I’ve gotten to know some fascinating people — like YOU!
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you too, Madelyn!

              Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you, John. Online we get to pick our tribe from a MUCH larger pool.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • I’m just now getting a glimpse of just how large that pool is – and from so many countries! Hugs!

              Liked by 1 person

            • The world is a marble!
              xx,
              mgh

              Like

  10. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    It may be late at night for many of us… however this post by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie about the brain’s Executive Functions is very informative. I don’t know about you… but my worst fear is losing my mental acuity and maintaining our brain’s ability to function efficiently is vital. #recommended

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great intro, Sally — and thanks so much for reblogging.

      Remaining *aware* of what fades allows most of us to learn to overcome it or work around it in ways that are transparent to others. I’ve had to do it all my life – lol.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

  11. dgkaye says:

    You’re articles are so informative and the way you convey the information makes it that much more enjoyable to read. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a WONDERFUL comment, Debby. Thank you so much. It can be a struggle at times to make things at least interesting, if not exactly fun. 🙂

      The science can often be deadly dull to most folks, but the interest comes when we learn how very much it impacts our very own lives.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • dgkaye says:

        Indeed it does. But the delivery is also important and you got down pat! 😉 xx

        Liked by 1 person

        • awwww – how kind of you to say that. My heart is smiling.

          btw – I never seem to catch that I have once again typed “ie” instead of “y” until AFTER I hit send – SO sorry to keep misspelling your name *Debby* 😦 (Where possible, I do go back and correct after the fact, if that makes any difference)
          xx,
          mgh

          Liked by 1 person

          • dgkaye says:

            Lol, thank you for noticing Madelyn. So funny I posted a meme on FB about people who spell people’s name wrong. It happens with my name a ton. People ass-u-me that’s it’s ‘ie’ and it’s a giveaway that they don’t pay attention. Much appreciated, but please, omg, don’t you dare go back tracking to change, lol. I’m flattered you noticed. I wonder how many times your name is spelled ‘Madlyn’? LOL 🙂 xx

            Liked by 1 person

            • I don’t recall getting that spelling, but I often get Madeline, Madeleine (which I love, but it is somebody else) etc.

              The all time worst was “Congratulations Phil and Madalon” — on our wedding cake! 🙂 My husband’s major professor in grad school was sweet enough to insist he organize a cake and a party with Phil’s grad school friends, even though we practically had a “city hall ceremony” and I knew almost no one there. He didn’t know me well at all at the time so didn’t know or notice and of course I said nothing.

              Bride’s weirdest funny/sad wedding story overall – but way too much to type today. A message from the universe that there was no room for “me” in that union? 🙂

              At least they got the name right – lol. You’d be surprised at the times I get versions of Marilyn, Magdalen and Natalie.

              I do try to pay attention but, with me, it’s more a finger-oops when I’m typing quickly. I interact with a lot of “ie”s and have a hair-trigger “send” finger. When I see it subsequently I am always mortified.

              Thanks for being so gracious about the retraction.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • dgkaye says:

              OMG, wrong spelling on your wedding cake? That would surely have been a jumbo bee in my bonnet! Ominous too. That would have been inexcusable for me. Know me well or not, for god’s sake ASK, it a wedding cake, lol. 🙂 xxx

              Like

            • Thank you! My male friends have said or indicated that I was “over-reacting” over something silly. THEY wouldn’t care so we “shouldn’t” care seems to be the operative principle. 🙂

              The professor was a GUY – lol – the relative importance of names and name misspellings must be one of those differences between men and woman that leave both teams shaking our heads.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • dgkaye says:

              Ya, well, that’s what you get from the species that can only think with one side of their brain at a time. LOLLLLLLLLLLLL 🙂 xx

              Liked by 1 person

            • As one of my female friends always says, “It’s that Y chromosome!” lol 🙂
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • dgkaye says:

              😛❣

              Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on Die Erste Eslarner Zeitung – Aus und über Eslarn, sowie die bayerisch-tschechische Region!.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Michael. It is such a pleasure to think that our words are spread all over the world, yes?

      LOVE that translate drop-down!
      xx,
      mgh

      Like

    • I just tried to say thank you under your reblog, but it seems that comments have not been enabled. So let me say again how much I appreciate your spreading the word.
      xx,
      mgh

      Like

  13. Another excellent and very important article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dolly.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure – you are doing a great job education the public!

        Liked by 1 person

        • As are you – different topics.
          xx,
          mgh

          Liked by 1 person

          • I beg to disagree: you raise important issues, while I am just having fun.

            Liked by 1 person

            • AND back-filling the history education of your readers – *especially* about Russia and Russians (and you have to know how vitally important it is right now to put a human face on the Russian people)
              xx

              Liked by 1 person

            • You want “a human face”? Wait till I finish the Haiti series; I have something cooking here, with a couple of faces…

              Liked by 1 person

            • Looking forward to it.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Coming up to a blog near you.

              Like

            • Can’t wait! xx, mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Two more Haiti posts, and then…

              Liked by 1 person

            • Back to Russia?

              Liked by 1 person

            • Yes and no…

              Like

            • Metaphorically – lol.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Actually, there will be a couple more countries involved – metaphorically.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Italy will be on that list no doubt.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Trying to tease info out of me, but no, this story does not touch Italy. It’s a true story, though (more or less).

              Liked by 1 person

            • My curiosity grows ever stronger. Running over to check to see if you’ve posted it yet.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Not yet, perhaps tomorrow or on Sunday. Still researching.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Will you come tell me (and my readers) when we can find it up?
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Will do.

              Liked by 1 person

  14. We regularly marvel at how wonderfully designed we are. To be able to achieve these executive functions in incredible. Just the mere fact of how we involuntarily breath and thus live is incredible. So much we take for granted that as we look at the list you have assembled blows us away even more. Great post Madelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, guys. It IS incredible how our body and brain can function without our conscious involvement. We take conscious override for granted even more, I believe.

      It is more amazing that most people realize that we can, for example, speed up or slow down the rate at which we breathe (an autonomic process normally) – or hold our breath for increasing amounts of time through practice – or increase our lung capacity (singers, musicians etc).

      What ELSE is amenable to conscious control? What isn’t?
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

      • We love your last thought “What ELSE is amenable to conscious control? What isn’t?”.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Great questions, right? I ask them every time I hear of “placebo” recovery.
          xx,
          mgh

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes! There are so many placebos out there too isn’t there.

            Like

            • Quite a bit of interesting research on the placebo effect as well.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, The mind when it believes does powerful things

              Liked by 1 person

            • And when it does NOT? Same deal in the other direction – one of the reasons why depression is so frequently a downward spiral that is so *tough* to overcome.
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • It sure can be but the blessing is it can be overcome and happy to admit being a survivor.

              Liked by 1 person

            • True – with courage, diligence, information and HELP – and we’re back to another importance of community. 🙂
              xx,
              mgh

              Liked by 1 person

            • For sure!

              Liked by 1 person

  15. -Eugenia says:

    Exercising the mind is as important as exercising the body.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right you are, Eugenia. And vice versa. Most of us do one OR the other once we get out of school. Life takes both.
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I wonder what a Neuropsychtest would say about your brain? And how it works? Mine tells me I’m crazy! Kidding………..😍

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d LOVE to really know how I’m doing. I have quarrels with (or reservations about) with most of those mental health tests, however. The brighter we are and the more we know, the more room for interpretation that biases our responses (and thus, the results) away from the “normal” end of the spectrum.

      I’m looking for an organization or lab studying ADD/EFD to receive my brain after I’m gone (as with the Nun Study brain autopsies). Of course, I won’t get to know what they find, darn it all!
      xx,
      mgh

      Like

  17. Lucy Brazier says:

    I love to start my week with a bit of inspired education! Thank you for helping me feel just that little bit smarter than I was a few minutes ago. Big hugs!
    xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • AS ALWAYS – you are a doll, Lucy. Off to bed – will cross the pond when I awaken. G’nite my lovely.
      xx, mgh

      Liked by 1 person

  18. This is very interesting, Madelyn. I am finding these articles about the functioning of the brain fascinating although your comment about functioning of the PFC going down after 45 is not good news.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad to hear it, Robbie. About 45 (and beyond) – it does happen, all over the brain, btw. But if you’ve built lots of connections it’s not so bad. (Life-long learning, creative projects, new languages, etc.). I think you’re brain is about as safe as it gets. 🙂
      xx,
      mgh

      Liked by 1 person

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