5 Tips for better Executive Functioning – Part 1


EF Management Tips and Tricks
Systems vs. Solutions

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
PART ONE: In support of The Executive Functioning Series

Introduced in an older article, ADD/ADHD and TIME: will ANYthing work?, this is what I remind my students and private clients:

Even though they are not exactly the same thing, most people with Executive Functioning challenges have quite a bit in common with people who have been diagnosed with ADD.

In addition to short-term memory glitches, the things that seem to negatively impact effectiveness most often are problems with activation and follow through.

When I work backwards to figure out what’s going on, I almost always discover foundational problems with time management and/or troubles with transitions.

Both of these struggles are exacerbated when few of life’s details are systematized, which means that very little can be put on auto-pilot.  Every action requires a conscious decision – which not only requires a greater number of transitions (that eat up time), it burns up cognitive resources.

  • “Processing space” in the conscious portion of our brains is not unlimited, at least not in the bottomless well meaning of unlimited. Consciousness is a resource-intensive process – your brain REALLY doesn’t want to burn up those resources making the same decisions over and over again.
  • DECISIONS are prefrontal cortex intensive – using the conscious pathways in your reaction/response mechanism – whether you are making a major decision or one as seemingly inconsequential as to what kind of ice cream you want in your cone.
  • The greater number of day-to-day to-dos you can relegate to unconscious processing, the more cognitive bandwidth you make available for tasks that truly require you to think about them consciously.
  • That means “standardizing” the timing and the steps – developing systems – so that they become HABITS.

Caveat: there are no one-size solutions

Despite my dislike of articles and books that offer seemingly fix-it-ALL tips and tricks, from time to time I still share online tips myself. 

  • I usually add the qualification that nothing works for everyone any more than one size really fits all – at least not very well.
  • I prefer to share the underlying principles, so that readers might be able to figure out how to tweak to fit – kinda’ like some of those fashion sites that tell you how to use a sewing machine to take a nip here and a tuck there.

But many people can’t sew, not everyone wants to take the time to learn, and most of us have trouble keeping up with what we are already trying to squeeze into our days.

That’s why some people make a living doing alterations –
or, in my case, coaching change.

 

HOWEVER, for those of you who have the time and motivation, I’m about to share again what many of my private clients hire me to help them put into place (no matter what “problem” we are working on at the time) – what I call my 5 System Basics.

I have to warn you, however, that few of my clients have ever really heard me the first few dozen times, so don’t be too surprised when the importance of some of these basics float right past you too.

Even when you’re desperate, change is flat-out HARD!

Try to remember as you read:

These aren’t merely a collection of five simple “suggestions.” If you have already noticed a few functioning struggles, try to hold them in your mind as practically absolutes – but lightly.

The five underlying concepts I’m about to share really do need to be accommodated in some fashion — with systems and work-arounds in place — before most of us are able to manage our energy toward follow through that doesn’t leave us endlessly chasing our own tails.

Lack of structure is really not the direction we want to travel if our goal is a life of ease and accomplishment.

Let ’em simmer in your brain’s slow-cooker.

As long as you don’t actively resist the ideas, (nit-picking the concepts or ruminating over the thoughts that yet another person simply doesn’t get it), you will be one step closer to having a handle on that follow-through thing, regardless of your current struggles with Executive Functioning.

Think of the underlying concepts, collectively, as a lever that will allow you to adjust your expectations appropriately, and to help you to figure out where you need to concentrate your time and effort ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible).

Trying to systematize a life without the basics
is like trying to start a car that’s out of gas.

  • Agonizing isn’t going to make a bit of difference.
  • Neither will “voting” – you may hate the idea, they may hate the idea. Sorry Charlie, it is simply what’s so
  • Hearing what a doofus you’ve been for not focusing on that little gas detail (especially hearing it internally) will shut you down and delay you further.
  • Go for the gas.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS WARNING!

The upcoming five concepts that will begin to put some gas in your car are simply that: FUEL.

Until you make sure your “car” has fuel, you can’t do much about checking to see if the starter is going bad. You may also learn you need to adjust the steering mechanism. Oh yeah, and you certainly won’t get very far on lousy tires.

  • You don’t expect your car to magically transform with a little gas, do you?
  • How about a whole tank full of gas?
  • How about gas and four new tires?

Yeah, right!

Try to remember that the next time the self-flagellation begins, as well as when you feel defensive and become offensive.

You can’t eat an elephant in a day —
EVEN if you take one tiny bite at a time.

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Procrastination’s link to kludgy Executive Functioning


Getting a Round Tuit
CUTE — but not very helpful

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Reflections from posts in the Challenges Series

Oh those clever seminar leaders!

We all love the little gifties that are passed out at a great many seminars we have attended, seminars designed to help us fashion lives that are more productive and enlivening.

Most of us have a list of things we intend to do when “we get around to it” — but I can’t imagine how being gifted with a little round reminder that we need to STOP “procrastinating” and “just DO it” is going to make one whit of difference.

In most cases it’s shaming, actually, regardless of how positive the humorous intent – and shame rarely works well as a motivational technique.

Related Post: The Top Ten Reasons to Reframe Procrastination

We need to look clearly at what’s going on

Follow through to completion is a linear process modulated by the prefrontal cortex [PFC], the brain’s “conductor” that keeps us on track and in action, step after step.

Our vanilla-flavored friends rarely appreciate the fact that they have an unconscious advantage in the linear processing department – what is frequently referred to as “declarative memory.”  That makes certain kinds of information retrieval, organization and task completion, and – well, just about everything else – a heck of a lot easier for them.

With the ADD/EFD brain-style (and others with attentional spectrum dysregulations – all of us with Executive Functioning glitches), we seem to process sequential information in a fairly disjointed manner — the pieces somehow jumbled together — sometimes not recorded at all, even when we do our very best to keep our attention on matters at hand.

Too many guests at the EFD Table

Because the brain is soft and sloshes around in fluid inside a hard skull with bony protrusions – especially in the front area where the PFC is most vulnerable – any appreciable hit on the head is likely to result in a few problems with Executive Functioning.

Because the PFC is connected to almost every other part of the brain, it’s not much of a stretch to believe that strokes or medications that affect one one part of the brain are likely to have an effect on PFC connectivity as well.

Implication: any individual with a disorder, stroke or other brain damage affecting the prefrontal cortex is highly likely to experience brain-based executive functioning challenges of one sort or another.

In a nutshell, “Executive Function” is the mental ability to organize, prioritize, and accomplish tasks. It is figuring out what to do first, second, third, and so on, to see a task through to completion. Executive function involves things like being able to realistically determine, in advance, how long and how difficult a particular task will be to accomplish.
~ from a great 1st person article by PTSD advocate Linda Lee/LadyQuixote, Impaired Executive Function, My Invisible Disability

Connectivity challenges are experienced by individuals with mood disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, TBI/ABI, and more than a few neurological conditions such as sensory integration disorders, Parkinson’s, dyslexia — in fact, almost all of what I refer to as the alphabet disorders.

Due to the way the brain ages, even individuals who were born with the neurotypical brain style will begin to notice increasingly more Executive Functioning struggles as they get older.

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Living within the boundaries of TIME


Why TIME can be so hard to track
MOST of us battle it – but some of us lose more often

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Challenges Series

If you want to know the truth about TIME, ask a kid

Kids know that, even on December 24th, the time between now and Christmas morning is MUCH longer than the time between the now of the last day of summer vacation and the first day of school.

How long those “golden rule days” last is open to debate in kid-courts everywhere.

Kids who enjoy learning and have great teachers
are positive that the school-day is short,
as the kids who don’t will swear it is interminable.

On this they can agree

Most kids beg for “just one more minute” to watch TV or play computer games – as if a measly 60 seconds is going to give them what they really want: to continue doing something that engages their attention and avoid doing something they find difficult or don’t want to do.

Science tells us that the perception of time is a function of interest and effort.
I say: only partly.

  • NO extra time eases the transitions, for kids or adults – which is a huge part of the problem for anybody who isn’t strictly neurotypical and linear beyond belief.
  • And it takes a lot of work to learn to work with and around hyperfocus – that “trapped in the NOW” state that brains challenged with attentional struggles use to compensate for kludgy focus.

What’s a poor time traveler to do?

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Beyond the Limitations of a Post-It Note™ Brain


 

TIME Perception is a factor of Awareness

The more conscious the process,
the longer it seems to take

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Reflections post from the Time & Task Management Series
Part THREE (Part I HEREPart II HERE)

According to Dr. David Eagleman, we humans are more than passive observers where time is concerned. And he should know. The author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, has studied Time perception for well over a decade.

According to his research, we are not merely watching the river of time flow by as if time happened TO us, or we happened IN time. Science is learning that our brains are actively constructing time.

Re-engineering Brain Resources

In Eagleman’s words, It turns out that it has everything to do with novelty, and with how much energy your brain has to expend.

So, when you can predict something, not only does your consciousness not come online, but [the event] feels like it goes by very fast.

In other words, driving to work may seem relatively fast eventually. The first time you had to do it, however, it seemed to take longer because of the novelty, as well as the amount of brain-power you had to burn the first time you did it — before your brain was able to predict much of anything about the trip.

Essentially prediction means that if it’s something you’re doing repeatedly, you’re actually “rewiring” — reconfiguring the circuitry of the brain.

You’re actually moving things into your sub-conscious circuitry, which gives you speed and efficiency, albeit at the cost of conscious access.

So you have to pay a lot of conscious attention if you’re learning to do something new, like playing golf or driving a car.

After a while it’s not necessary, because you’ve changed the circuitry of your brain — no longer at the effect of the conscious awareness of what you’re doing.

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ADDing to Subtract


How much change can you tolerate
before you STOP trying to cope?

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Intentionality Series

We HATE to give things up

Have you ever tried to convince a kid to give away a toy – even a toy s/he no longer plays with and, truth to tell, never cared much for in the first place?

Most kids will take quite a bit of convincing, and some will throw a fit and refuse.

Truly clever Moms and Dads replace the toy with something new – putting the emphasis on what their kids are getting rather than what they are giving up.

And most parents who follow the “one-in/one-out” rule figure out very quickly that the swap needs to be agreed upon UP FRONT.

If they can get the child to fork over the old toy before they receive the new one, so much the better.

An Overwhelmed Brain says NO!

Have you ever allowed yourself to get in over your head?  In your home, for example, have things ever gotten so messy that you begin to doubt your ability to ever clean it up?

I refer to it as being “over my limit.”  Finding myself over my limit happens to me regularly.

  • It happens every single time I move to a new home, for example, or the times I’ve been too sick to have the energy to do much beyond making it to the kitchen or the bathroom and back to bed.
  • It also happens during (and following) any period where the serious illness of a close friend or family member shifts my priorities.
  • Things seem to get worse every day.

Suddenly – or so it seems – I can’t cope any more.  EVERYTHING seems to be everywhere.  I can’t see the items for the clutter, and life becomes a scavenger hunt of epic proportions.

The professional organizers would probably tell me to start pitching things left and right to “clear out the clutter” – but which things?

What the neurotypical never seem to understand is that overwhelm shuts down our capacity to make effective decisions.

  • I don’t know about you, but the few times I’ve allowed myself to be pushed to toss against my better judgment have ended badly.
  • In a couple of cases, it took me months to jump through the hoops to replace something I’d tossed that I actually needed – and that’s after I’d spent a great deal of time looking for it.
  • As I grow older, I am less and less willing to throw those months under the neatness bus!  Especially since I’ve learned the hard way that “neat” and “organized” are two completely different things.  I’ll bet you have too.

Fear of Tossing?

No, I haven’t developed “fear of tossing” as a result, like some of my clients, but I HAVE learned not to jump in pitching when I’m overwhelmed.

And I’ll bet you have too – whether it is the result of a conscious decision or merely what looks like intractability to anyone watching.

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen? they ask, in their ignorance.
  • Are you kidding?  I’m barely hanging on NOW – my goose is cooked if things get worse.

Don’t forget that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

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Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it


 

Post-itsOvercoming the
Limitations of the
Post-It Note™ Brain

A Source of Struggles
in Alphabet City

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of ADD Coaching Skills Series

Dr. David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, has studied time perception for over a decade.

According to Eagleman and his lab, we humans are more than passive observers where time is concerned.

We are not merely watching the river of time flow by as if time happened TO us, or we happened IN time.

As with visual illusions and perceptions, science is learning that our brains are actively constructing time.

Re-engineering Brain Resources

In Eagleman’s words, “It turns out that [time perception] has everything to do with novelty, and with how much energy your brain has to expend.

So, when you can predict something, not only does your consciousness not come online, but [the event] feels like it goes [by] very fast.

  • So, driving to work [seems] very fast; but the very first time you did it, it seemed to take a long time because of the novelty, AND
  • the amount of brain-power you had to burn the first time you did it — before you were able to predict it.

Essentially what prediction means, if it’s something you’re doing a lot, you’re actually reconfiguring the circuitry of the brain.

  • You’re actually getting stuff down into [your brain’s sub-conscious] circuitry, which gives you speed and efficiency, but at the cost of conscious access.
  • So, if you’re learning to do something new, like playing tennis or riding a bicycle or something, at first you have to pay a lot of conscious attention
  • After a while you don’t have to, because you’ve changed the circuitry of your brain — but at the cost of being able to consciously know what you’re doing.”

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Everything I know about Systems I learned from Cristopher Lowell


Remember – links on this site are dark gray to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.

Systems Development Coaching and Christopher Lowell?!

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Another article in the Coaching Series

I really love the heart inside this man, and think many of you will too — but this article is primarily a light-hearted introduction to a number of foundational concepts (which will be especially valuable for those of you who struggle with impulsivity and have come to be wary of decision-making as a result).

Because I wrote this as the holidays were getting underway, the article ends with some suggestions to help  navigate the decisions of the shopping frenzies of Black Friday and Cyber Monday — and they apply to the entire Christmas Shopping season.

They ALSO will be helpful things to keep in mind for anybody who struggles to resist the allure of certain kinds of places to add to your collection of whatever
(you know what I mean and you know who you are!)

Decorator and Systems Guru

The minute I became conscious of the “TV hypnosis” experience, I realized the danger. Since I wanted to spend my life DOING, not watching, I chose to banish the bugger. I haven’t owned a television set in decades.

As a consequence, I came years late to the Christopher Lowell party — aware of his existence only after I picked up a discount decorating book at one of those “odd lots” resale stores.

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you might recall that curling up on my chaise with a huge cup of coffee and a decorating resource is my cookie. (click on: Virtue is Not its own Reward, part of the TaskMaster Series, for more about this Cookie concept and how I use it in MY ADD-drenched life)

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