What Is Executive Function?

“The single greatest predictor of academic success is executive function. It even trumps IQ.”
– Developmental molecular biologist John Medina

Executive Functioning refers to brain-based abilities that allow us to harness our energy and focus on goals—in short, EF allow us to manage ourselves and get things done.

Executive functioning allows people to access information, think about solutions and implement those ideas. There is an impressive list of areas that executive functioning has an impact on and most people do these things without thinking about them.

We support our client in these key areas of executive functioning:

  1. Working memory and recall (holding facts in mind while manipulating information; accessing facts stored in long-term memory; includes an impaired sense of time.)
  2. Activation, arousal, and effort (getting started; paying attention; finishing work)
  3. Controlling emotions (ability to tolerate frustration; thinking before acting or speaking)
  4. Internalizing language (using “self-talk” to control one’s behavior and direct future actions)
  5. Taking an issue apart, analyzing the pieces, reconstituting and organizing it into new ideas (complex problem solving).
  6. Shifting, inhibiting (changing activities, stopping existing activity, stopping and thinking before acting or speaking)
  7. Organizing/planning ahead (organizing time, projects, materials, and possessions)
  8. Monitoring (self-monitoring and prompting)

Who struggles with Executive Function?

A wide variety of people struggle with executive function. Some people who struggle with executive function have no diagnosable disorders. Others who struggle in this area may have:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Learning differences
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • And other conditions.

A lack of executive functioning abilities, oftentimes tied to ADHD can present problems for individuals trying to function independently in society. A lack of executive functioning abilities can also lead to struggles around:

  • creating a schedule or routine in one’s life
  • managing a school or work schedule,
  • paying attention and remembering details
  • acting appropriately in certain social situations
  • emotional regulation
  • learning from one’s mistakes or successes in the past

At Collegiate Coaching Services, we often see clients who, while intelligent and academically capable, present with some level of an executive functioning deficit. We have a strong focus on life skills and we often work with young adults who need help structuring their day, managing their class schedule and responsiblities, managing their employment responsibilities, and interacting appropriately with their peers, parents, and others in their lives, as well as improving their ability to advocate for their needs and wants. We utilize the techniques below to support clients:

  • Reflect and evaluate past decisions and outcomes in order to make well-informed future decisions.
  • Help clients organize class syllabi to set a plan for completing assignments, reading, and prepare for exams.
  • Utilize a shared calendar to help clients stay accountable for due dates and other life obligations.
  • Assist clients in managing free time will also finding time for studying, doing chores, exercising, sleeping, and developing healthy eating habits.
  • Create a client-centered system for remembering appointments, assignments, and other daily-life tasks.
  • Set goals, work together to identify the steps necessary to complete goals, and establish a system of accountability that empowers each client.

Our primary goal is that every client develops the ability to make healthy decisions and problem solve effectively with limited accountability support from a coach, parent, or other. We emphasize the importance of knowing when to ask for help, work to help each client understand, accept, and embrace their limitations and continue to cultivate and grow from their strengths.