Skill-Building 101: Executive Functioning

“You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.”While executive functioning (EF) has gained increasing attention in the mainstream over the last few years, it’s still not as commonly known as critical thinking, communication, or time management – but it IS as commonly misunderstood by those who have heard of it.

We’re not a good skill-builder until we’re clear – conceptually and practically – on what the skill we’re trying to build actually is. There are tons of definitions of EF available following the explosion of research on the subject, but we want to ground our thinking in the basics and really wrap our heads around what it means.

To this end, let’s look at EF’s main elements and the language we use to talk about them.

EF refers to a set of mental (cognitive) processes that:

While challenges with EF are often associated with learning differences such as ADD/ADHD, any student (or adult, for that matter) – formally diagnosed or not – can have EF deficits.

In my experience, most people are NOT using their EF as well as they could, simply because they never learned that they could.

The good news is that we can improve our EF skills with specific strategies and deliberate practice.

I can’t overstate the importance of letting this sink in: if we practice, we will get better. When we help our kids practice, they get better. If we do NOT practice, we will not get better. If our kids do NOT explicitly and systematically build their EF skills, they will not have strong EF skills.

It’s like physical training; we don’t build muscle or endurance without exercising/training regularly and consistently. And you guys – schools don’t teach this. As with all of our core skills, one of the reasons that actively building these skills sets kids up for success and puts them ahead of their peers is because most kids are NOT taught this.

They don’t learn the art or science of skill-building.

The fact that explicit skill-building isn’t embedded in most curricula is a frequent source of frustration for me, but all we can do until there’s a real change in the school system is take ownership over it + and help them take ownership over it.

So why should we be motivated to do this? One study sums it up:

“EFs are predictive of achievement, health, wealth, and quality of life throughout life, often more so than IQ or socioeconomic status.”

Students who develop strong EF skills:
  • Do better in school overall. Research shows EF is a “significant predictor” of how kids fare across all dimensions of academic competence.
  • What’s more, developmental studies have shown that teens’ EF performance improves significantly “until at least age 15”, but slows with increasing age.
  • Get better outcomes in math in particular.
People of all ages who strengthen their EF skills:
  • Have an easier time adjusting socially (making and keeping friends)
  • Are better at problem-solving, “thinking outside the box”
  • Enjoy greater marital harmony
  • Have more success with weight control
  • Enjoy greater career advancement
  • Are more skilled at conflict resolution

Want to learn how to build out your EF skills? Your kids’ EF skills? Book a (free) 1:1 call here, let’s make it happen.

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