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Executive Functioning: The Key to Success

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be able to manage their time, prioritize tasks, and adapt to situations and life circumstances with ease, while others struggle to stay organized and focused? You are not alone.

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning (EF) refers to a set of cognitive processes that are responsible for managing and regulating our behavior, thoughts, and emotions. These processes are essential for goal-directed behavior, decision-making, problem-solving, planning, and organization. Now, a quick Google search will demonstrate differences in phrasing in what these skills are, making it confusing for people to understand what EF skills are and how to enhance them. So the question remains, what are executive functioning skills?

According to Dr. Thomas E. Brown, a leading clinical expert on treating ADHD, there are six separate clusters of Executive Functions that work together unconsciously to support goal-directed behavior. His framework demonstrates the complexities of executive functions and emphasizes that these are not discrete skills, but rather a set of interrelated processes working together to support adaptive behavior. These functions are influenced by a variety of factors including experience, genetics, and environment.

Why is EF important?

EFs are not important just for individuals navigating ADHD but for everyone. They change with age, time, experience, and training, and can be developed or lost. EFs enable individuals to engage in activities like future planning, task completion, problem-solving, focus, managing emotions, remembering important information, and staying motivated. These crucial skills begin to develop as early as infancy and are imperative to school, work, health, and relationship success, impacting the general quality of life. However, an inverted U-shaped curve in development suggests these various skills develop up to age 30 and can decline as early as age 18, though EF decline is most commonly associated with volume reduction in the prefrontal cortex occurring with older age.

A 2021 study conducted by Ferguson et al., revealed planning and working memory develop through adolescence into early adulthood, and inhibitory control, working memory, and planning begin to decline as early as one's 30s. They also discovered switching task sets can be more challenging for adolescents and young adults, whereas maintaining focus on task sets can be more challenging for middle-aged and older adults.

How do I improve my EF?

With natural barriers existing and an imminent decline in EFs, what can we do about it? Luckily, like most behaviors and skills, we can strengthen and improve our EFs the same way one gets to Carnegie Hall, "practice, practice, practice." Through neuroplasticity, we know that the more we engage with, practice, and use a skill, the stronger it becomes. Similarly, the less we use a skill, the more likely we are to lose it.

Countless apps, games, and programs exist to help individuals develop, strengthen, and maintain EFs. To get a better understanding of what EFs you may need assistance with, seeking a consultation with a neuropsychologist or EF coach for an evaluation and customized training program is a great first step to improving your EFs.

If you need help getting started or have questions about how to improve your EFs, schedule a call with me, and together we can help you achieve your goals.



Brown, T. E. (2023). The Brown model of ADD/ADHD: Brown ADHD clinic: United States. Brown ADHD Clinic.

Ferguson, H.J., Brunsdon, V.E.A. & Bradford, E.E.F. The developmental trajectories of executive function from adolescence to old age. Sci Rep11, 1382 (2021).

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