What are Executive Functions

ADHD is a complex neurobiological condition. It is typically manifested by Executive Function impairments due to a lack of blood flow and electrical stimulation to the frontal cortex, the decision-making area of the brain.  In other words, the brain is inefficient when it comes to:

Working memory: Your brain's task list or sticky notes.  As information comes into your brain, you are both processing it and simultaneously storing it. It's the ability to actively hold one piece of information while working on another. Working memory is a necessary component of learning, reasoning, and remembering.  A weak working memory can manifest in daily frustrations .... returning from the supermarket without the one item that you went for or arriving at the airport without your passport. Another result of poor working memory is the inability to learn from prior experience and/or mistakes. If you don't remember the results of a poor decision, it is possible that you will repeat that decision again, with the same frustrating results.

Impulsivity: Also known as response inhibition. It is one's ability to "put on the brakes". An important piece of self-mastery which enables you to delay gratification, curb your anger, resist distraction and evaluate a situation before acting. Impulsivity is what gives ADDers their fun factor, often to the point of being a thrill seeker.

Emotional Regulations: The ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals and complete tasks. Difficulty controlling your emotions can sometimes result in spurts of anger, low threshold for frustration, high anxiety, extreme sensitivity, defensiveness and emotional flooding. This can often impact the relationships that you care most about. 

Sustained attentionThe ability to focus in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or boredom. It can be very difficult to ignore the myriad of thoughts that dominate your brain, unnecessary noise, and environmental distractions.  It's also very difficult to regain focus after being interrupted. However, you can usually focus forever on things that you are passionate about.  Interest is what typically dictates sustained attention.

Initiation: The ability to begin projects or tasks without undue procrastination. Because of weak organization skills, it is often very hard to "get started". This is tightly linked to the ability or inability to plan and prioritize.  You may know someone at work that has the best of intentions but is challenged in knowing how and where to begin.

Planning/prioritizing: The ability to create a plan in order to achieve a particular goal. Having weak executive functions makes it hard to break a job into smaller tasks, assign a priority to each task, estimate how long a task will take, and acknowledge realistic limitations. Having a weak "working memory" makes it hard to see how a series of steps will actually fit together to accomplish the desired goal.

Organization: The ability to create and maintain systems that enables one to keep track of information or materials. It's not that ADHDers don't try to be organized. Often things get moved around in an honest attempt, but the objects don't wind up in a better place than they started. Living in a sea of clutter easily turns into overwhelm and hopelessness.

Time Management: The ability to feel the passage of time and realistically estimate the necessary time to complete an activity. Since the brains of ADDers are drawn to areas of interest, it's possible to slide into hyperfocus; a state in which you lose track of everything. This flies in the face of the misconception that those with ADHD struggle with focusing. In areas of interest, they actually excel! Another challenge associated with time management is making transitions from what you are doing to what you need to do next. When fully engaged in an activity, it is hard to shift your attention to the next task at hand. 

Goal Directed Behavior: The ability to have a goal and complete the necessary steps to achieve the task without being sidetracked by competing interests. For many ADHDers, there is Now and Not Now. The past and the future don't really exist, so decisions are in the present tense. For this reason, goals that require planning and prioritizing may slip through the cracks. Examples of this could be saving for retirement, dieting, studying for an exam, writing a thesis, or simply getting up on time! This is because ADHDers have a brain chemistry that does not clearly indicate "reward" in the attention center of the brain. (Low dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins) Thus it is hard to complete a task if the reward lies far into the future.

Flexibility: The ability to readjust expectations in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information and disappointment. ADDers have trouble handling feelings of frustration and often ruminate or get stuck on a previously held conviction. When lack of flexibility combines with lack of emotional regulation, meltdowns can occur.

Metacognition: The ability to self-monitor and self-evaluate: How am I doing? Another way to understand this is the ability to step back and take a bird's eye view of the situation.  What adjustments need to be made? What can I learn from this situation? Why am I not starting something that needs to get done? Do I know what needs to be done or how to do it?  Can I break it down into smaller steps? What is it about the task that I am avoiding? People with ADHD sometimes struggle with a low degree of self-awareness and are not always good at seeing their own behavior.

Coaching is the path that can deliver you from frustration and anxiety to joy, fulfillment and increased self-esteem.  With the help of a trained coach, it IS possible to start to feel like you have control over your life. My professional training is through the ADD Coach Academy.  ADDCA is an ICF and PAAC certified coaching program dedicated exclusively to training ADHD coaches.  Working with me you will gain clarity and focus reaching your most ambitious goals faster than you can alone.

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