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What are Executive Functions?

Enhancing Executive Functioning Skills: Strategies for Improving Organization, Attention, Emotional Regulation, Working Memory, and Self-Monitoring.

By Dawn WarburtonPublished about a year ago 5 min read
What are Executive Functions?
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Executive function skills are crucial for success in many areas of life, from academic and work performance to personal relationships and overall well-being. These skills can be broken down into four clusters, including nonverbal and verbal working memory, self-regulation of affect/motivation/arousal, and Reconstitution (planning and generativity). Impairments in these clusters can result in attentional deficits, making it challenging to organize tasks, maintain engagement, regulate emotions, apply working memory and recall, and monitor and regulate actions. However, there are ways to strengthen these skills, such as seeking professional help and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

What is Nonverbal working memory?

Nonverbal working memory temporarily stores and manipulates visual and spatial information in the mind for a brief period. It is an essential aspect of cognitive functioning closely related to other cognitive processes such as attention, perception, and reasoning.

Nonverbal working memory is used when we need to remember and use visual information to complete a task, such as placing a series of numbers, solving a puzzle, or navigating a new environment. It is also crucial in many academic and professional settings, such as mathematics, science, and engineering.

Examples of nonverbal working memory tasks include remembering the location of objects in a scene, recalling the order of shapes or patterns, and holding onto information while manipulating it mentally to solve a problem.

Research has shown that nonverbal working memory can be improved through training and practice and is a significant predictor of academic and professional success.

What is Internalization of Speech (verbal working memory)

Internalization of speech, also known as verbal working memory, refers to the ability to temporarily store and manipulate verbal or auditory information in the mind for a short period. This type of working memory is closely related to language processing and involves using language to hold and manipulate information.

Verbal working memory is used in everyday activities, such as following directions, remembering a phone number, or solving a math problem. It is also essential for more complex tasks, such as reading comprehension, learning new vocabulary, and engaging in critical thinking.

Verbal working memory involves not only the storage of verbal information but also the ability to manipulate and use that information in different ways. For example, a person with good verbal working memory might be able to hold a set of instructions in their mind while completing a task or mentally rearrange a set of words to form a new sentence.

Research has shown that verbal working memory can be improved through training and practice and that it is a significant predictor of academic success, particularly in language-based subjects like reading and writing.

What is Self-regulation of affect/motivation/arousal?

Self-regulation of affect, motivation, and arousal refers to how someone manages and regulates one's emotions, motivation levels, and level of physiological arousal. This involves the ability to monitor and adjust one's own feelings, behaviors, and physiological responses in response to various environmental and situational cues.

Self-regulation of affect involves identifying and managing one's emotions to promote well-being and effective functioning. This may include strategies such as cognitive reappraisal, emotional expression, and emotional suppression.

Self-regulation of motivation involves the ability to set and pursue goals and persist in facing obstacles or challenges. This may include strategies such as self-monitoring, self-incentives, and self-reflection.

Self-regulation of arousal involves the ability to regulate one's level of physiological arousals, such as heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension. This may include strategies such as relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and mindfulness practices.

Effective affect, motivation, and arousal self-regulation are essential for optimal cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. It is related to many positive outcomes, including better academic and work performance, positive interpersonal relationships, and overall well-being.

What is Reconstitution (planning and generativity)

Reconstitution, also known as planning and generativity, refers to generating new ideas and plans and to adapt to changing circumstances. This involves thinking creatively and flexibly and developing multiple solutions to a problem.

Reconstitution also involves setting and pursuing long-term goals and planning. This may include considering various options and weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks.

Effective Reconstitution requires the ability to anticipate and prepare for future challenges and to adapt to changing circumstances. This may involve developing contingency plans and backup strategies and being able to adjust plans and goals as needed.

Reconstitution is vital for many aspects of life, including academic and work success, personal relationships, and overall well-being. It allows individuals to navigate complex and challenging situations and make the most of opportunities.

These Four Executive Function Areas can be broken down into six areas:

  • Organizing, prioritizing, and initiating tasks
  • Focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention as needed
  • Regulating alertness, effort, and processing speed
  • Managing frustration and emotional regulation
  • Utilizing working memory and recall abilities.
  • Monitoring and self-regulating actions and behaviors

The clusters of executive functions work together, and individuals with ADHD often experience impairments in some aspects of each cluster. These impairments frequently occur together, suggesting a clinical relationship.

Difficulties in these clusters can result in attentional deficits, making it challenging for individuals to organize tasks, initiate and maintain engagement, regulate alertness and emotions, apply working memory and recall, and monitor and regulate actions.

Executive function impairment hurts an individual's ability to initiate, work on, and complete tasks. It is commonly believed that deficits in executive functions are closely associated with the symptoms of ADHD.

Act today to improve your executive functioning skills! Whether you struggle with ADHD or just want to enhance your cognitive abilities, there are ways to strengthen your organizing, prioritizing, and initiating tasks, focusing and sustaining attention, regulating alertness and emotions, utilizing working memory and recall abilities, and monitoring and self-regulating actions and behaviors.

Consider seeking professional help, such as a therapist or coach, who can guide you through exercises and strategies to improve your executive function skills. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and exercise regularly to improve overall well-being and cognitive functioning.

Make a conscious effort to incorporate executive functioning skills into your daily routine, such as using a planner to stay organized, taking breaks to maintain focus, and practicing self-reflection to monitor and adjust your behavior.

Improving your executive functioning skills can enhance your academic and professional success, strengthen your personal relationships, and increase your overall well-being. Don't wait, start today!

Take the steps needed to make a change for the better!

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About the Creator

Dawn Warburton

Hi! I'm Dawn, a consumer and disability advocate currently pursuing a doctorate in Organizational Leadership. I advocate to empower parents and consumers to make informed decisions by sharing current research and leading practices.

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    Dawn WarburtonWritten by Dawn Warburton

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