ABOUT Executive Functions

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 by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part 1 in a Series 

Executive Functions

Sorry, no trophy wife gets a new gown for these functions.  Execs, you’re off the hook too; no need to get the tux cleaned.

We’re referring to cognitive abilities that most adults take for granted as products of intelligence, education and maturity — items like planning, problem solving, concentration, mental flexibility, and controlling short-term behavior to achieve long-term goals.

If that list of mental abilities looks a tad familiar, it’s because it is incredibly similar to a list of traits with which those of us with Attentional Spectrum Disorders experience big-time problems!

Sound like your experience with ADD?  Oh yeah! ADD is a front-runner in the Executive Functioning Disorders relay race. Individuals with TBI find that many of their post-brain injury impairments fall in this arena as well.

#1 of a Series . . .

Cognitive Abilities

When we’re talkin’ Executive Functions, we’re talkin’ abilities of the mind, mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning — all attributes of “The Executive System.”

To help you form a better picture of what is meant by the concept of Executive Functions, contrast the executive processes with some other domains of  functioning:

  • autonomic processes, like keeping our heart beating,  sweating and shivering in response to environmental cues, extracting nutrients from the food we eat (and getting rid of waste products);
  • emotional processes like fear, anger, sorrow and joy;
  • volitional processes like clapping our hands, scratching an itch or crossing our legs.

Science has learned a great deal about how our brain and nervous system “drive” a great many actions and activities that make up human functioning, but we still have much to learn, especially about the “higher order” cognitive processes.

Higher Order Skills

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: the pre-frontal cortex

  • 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

The PFC is the area of the brain that makes it possible for us to learn – to be able to focus our attention on the important and ignore the extraneous well enough to retain what we see-hear-feel-smell-taste-THINK long enough for the information to registered so that it has a shot at being consolidated into a long-term memory.

Only when those processes of attention and retention are adequate, can we expect to be able to recall our own history and build our database of conclusions about the way the world works: those insights that shape our self-concept, in addition to our ability to actuate our desires in the direction of our goals.

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, mediated by the pre-frontal cortex, continually work together  to help us manage hundreds of 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 consciousness.  At least, they do it that way when everything is on board and working.

All Together Now!

The executive functions in concert become the cognitive management system of the human brain, also involved in allowing actions and problem solving to become easier and more effective with repeated exposure . . . BUT only if we are able to recognize the repeat.

“Recognizing the repeat” implies a few things we rarely consider until things go wrong:

  1. that we are able to access the memory of having experienced something before;
  2. that we can access the memory of what we did in response to that prior experience;
  3. whether our response did or did not have the effect we wanted it to have;
  4. whether the effect of our actions moved us forward or got us into trouble; AND
  5. that we are able to put it all together rapidly enough to keep us from doing something stupid . . . AGAIN.

So what the heck ARE the Executive Functions?

GOOD QUESTION!  For an answer, when you’re ready to go to Part II of this series, click the link in the “Related Content” list below.

Future articles in the Executive Functioning series will take a look at the implications of Executive Functioning Disorders on the way to helping you figure out How to drive the very brain you were born with – even if it’s taken a few hits in the meantime™.  Stay tuned and keep reading.

Click HERE to open a new window to a short video where noted ADD expert, Dr. Russell Barkley,
briefly summarizes the Executive Functions, looking through what I refer to as The ADD Lens™ 

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Executive Functioning Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, 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 one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, 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!)

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

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

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!"

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  29. andy wolmer says:



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