What is the definition of Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning is the higher function of your brain that helps you control and regulate your behaviors and emotions.

Scientists believe that Executive Functioning lies in the prefrontal cortex of your brain. Many people find it helpful to think of Executive Functioning as the aircraft controller or the orchestra conductor for your brain and body. Executive Functioning keeps you in control of:

  • Scheduling
  • Goal Setting
  • Organizing
  • Focusing
  • Prioritizing
  • Sticking with it when it gets tough (a.k.a. persistence)
  • Impulsiveness

For example, when you resist telling someone off, your Executive Functioning helps you evaluate consequences (you might hurt their feelings or make them mad at you) and control the impulse to blurt out your opinion. When getting ready to leave the house on time, you use Executive Functioning to keep one eye on the clock and the other on the things you need to get into your backpack before you run out the door to catch the bus.

The single greatest predictor of academic success is Executive Functioning. It’s even more important than IQ!

Research has show than Executive Functioning is a critical part of academic success. Some scientists even believe it is the single greatest predictor of academic success. Symptoms of Executive Functioning impairment may include:

Inability to regulate attention, distractibility, carelessness, forgetfulness, difficulty completing tasks, poor time management and perception, lack of organization, procrastination, difficulty following conversations, hyperactive behavior (such as excessive talking and restlessness), impulsive behavior ( such as blurting and interrupting), and short-term memory loss.

ADHD & Executive Functioning Impairment

EVERYONE can have Executive Functioning troubles at different times – it’s all a matter of degree.

ADHD is one type of Executive Functioning impairment. Some other causes for Executive Functioning impairments include head injury, extreme stress, childhood trauma, depression or autism.

Scientists have been struggling for decades to get a clear definition of the cluster of symptoms we now call ADHD.  For example, Dr Thomas Brown of Yale University supports the view that ADHD consists of a constellation of Executive Functioning impairments in the area of the brain that supports attention. He identifies Activation, Focus, Effort, Emotion, Memory and Action as the “Attention” related Executive Functions that may be impaired when you have ADHD. Dr. Brown calls this cluster of attention-related symptoms, ADD Syndrome. Other names for ADHD throughout time have included: AD/HD, ADD, ADHD, Executive Dysfunction, Minimal Brain Dysfunction, Regulatory Control Disorder, and Dysexecutive Syndrome.

The challenge with understanding how ADHD and Executive Functioning are interrelated is that EVERYONE can have Executive Functioning troubles at different times – it’s all a matter of degree. When you have ADHD you are more often challenged by Executive Functioning than people who don’t.

For example, most people can usually make themselves pay attention to tasks, even tasks that are boring, when they have to. People with ADHD find it much more difficult to make themselves. They have difficulty being able to manage their mind to focus on tasks they need to do when those tasks are not immediately interesting.

Remember, not everyone with Executive Functioning challenges has ADHD. That’s why you should work with a professional to obtain a proper diagnosis if you suspect you have ADHD or another Executive Functioning impairments.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Each of us is born with the same set of Executive Functions. However, ability in each of these areas varies on an individual basis. For example, some people have amazing abilities to manage frustration but have poor working memory. All of us get distracted and have trouble focusing at times. Consider, everyone feels sad at times, but that does not mean a sad person should receive a diagnosis of depression.

Each person has their own, unique set of strengths and weaknesses. The key is to be introspective and understand yourself — know your strengths, your challenges, your passions, your aversions.

Just as some people mature faster than others and develop different strengths, people with Executive Functioning impairments have a range of experiences with how the condition manifests over time. And it’s also why so many people can benefit from the individualized attention that an Edge Coach brings to helping you find successful workarounds for your Executive Functioning impairments.