Executive Functioning and Why You Can’t Survive Without It
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Executive Functioning and Why You Can’t Survive Without It

By Wendy Rice, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist


Today was the third time this week I got into trouble at work for missing yet another deadline. The thing is, I’m not missing them on purpose! I’m finding it harder and harder to keep track of my time at work and at home. I would try to organize everything I need to do but even that turns into an uphill battle as soon as I start trying to think of ideas. I really don’t know what to do.

Have you heard the term executive functioning lately? If you have a child with learning or attention challenges, you probably have. But, if you are like most people, the term executive functioning or executive function dysfunction remains somewhat elusive. Let me see if I can help clarify.

There are almost as many definitions of executive functioning as there are people to write them. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few of them now. Perhaps seeing the different ways that this complex term is interpreted and defined will help you create your own idea of what is being referred to.

Not being able to organize, remember or plan your everyday tasks can get in the way of living a normal life. Rice Psychology Group of Tampa is here to help.

Pinpointing the Definition

what is executive functioning

Several years ago, I completed a post-doctoral program in clinical neuropsychology under the internationally renowned clinician, speaker, scientist and author, Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg. He has studied and written extensively on the topic of executive functioning and even went so far as to publish two books on the topic, “The Executive Brain”, followed by “The New Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes in a Complex World.” Dr. Goldberg basically refers to the frontal lobe as the executive lobe of the brain. 

According to Dr. Goldberg, our frontal lobes are responsible for helping us manage complex decision-making, deal with new situations, cope when things are ambiguous or vague, deal with and manage complex emotions, and be able to plan, prioritize and have foresight. He explains that in life, our brains have to constantly be on the lookout for the changing demands of what is going on around us so that it can select what to pay attention to and what to remember, and even switch back and forth between multiple bits of information at the same time.

It also needs to be able to pull older information out of our long-term storage to help us manage what we need to deal with in the here and now. This is yet one small aspect of the broad term executive functioning.

According to another of my favorite researchers, Dr. Russell Barkley, executive functions are “specific types of self-regulation or self-directed actions that people use to manage themselves effectively in order to sustain their actions (and problem-solving) toward their goals and the future.” Included in his list are:

  • Inhibition
  • Resistance to distraction
  • Self-awareness
  • Working memory
  • Emotional self-control
  • Self-motivation

RPG Executive Functioning Assessment

To bring all of these pieces together in one clear definition, executive functioning are the mental skills that make living a productive life possible. Do you know if your executive functioning is on track? At Rice Psychology Group, when we are assessing a person’s executive functioning abilities, we look at two primary areas – how they manage their thinking and how they regulate their behavior and emotions. 

Under the first category, which can be considered “cognitive management”, we examine Attention, Task Initiation, Organization, Planning, Self-Monitoring and Working Memory. In the second category of “behavioral regulation”, we take stock of Emotion Regulation, Flexibility and Inhibitory Control.

If you feel you or your child is struggling in any of these areas, consider contacting Rice Psychology Group in Tampa for help. Our team of psychologists will assess your situation in a comfortable and relaxing environment so that you or your loved ones can take the first step towards feeling better.

About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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