You may have heard or read about executive functioning in children. But how much do you know about executive functioning problems in adults?
What Exactly Is Executive Functioning?
Executive functioning refers to a set of brain abilities that can help you to accomplish your goals. When developed, these capacities supply us with vital life skills. Below are some descriptions of some ways that I’ve seen executive functioning problems in adults and teens.
6 Common Signs of Executive Functioning Problems in Adults
Impulse control problems. Remember when you were little? You were probably told many times to “think before you speak”, or to “think before you act”. When you didn’t, you probably got into some type of trouble. If you are an adult with executive functioning problems, then you might find you blurt out things, or pick up your cell phone and start texting when you are in the middle of meeting.
Flexible thinking. When we are healthy, our thinking is flexible. We can easily see other viewpoints. We learn and adjust our beliefs in response to facts and experience. If we find that our thinking isn’t helpful, we re-evaluate. This type of learning is often lacking in adults with executive functioning problems.
Working Memory. In order to reach both our small and our larger goals, we have to be able to hold things in our working memory. Otherwise, we stymie ourselves. For example, one of my neurofeedback clients recently shared with me that he would find himself wasting a lot of time when he was reading for work. He would regularly begin to review a document, and by the time he got the end of paragraph, his mind would wander and would forget what he read a few sentences ago. He has always had a great long term memory, but his short term memory is poor.
Self Monitoring. In life, this executive function have to be able to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s our ability to be mindful and notice our state. It’s this ability that allows us to be effective. If you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t change it very easily.
Planning and Prioritizing. In work and relationships, we need to be able to decide what is important. Often this skill is lacking when there are executive functioning problems in adults. Many of my adult and teens clients are very bright and creative individuals. But their difficulty with planning and prioritizing places a cap on their success. Recently a woman I work with said “I would be earning twice my income if I could just stop over researching and surfing the internet. I go down so many rabbit holes, that ultimately don’t pay off”. I just wish I could stop myself from going on these tangents.” This can be a common deficit in clients with anxiety, trauma histories, and ADHD
Task initiation. “I have almost 100 files on my desk. It would take me maybe 10 minutes to file them. Or I could ask my assistant to do it. I just never feel like it. I know it’s costing me money because I spend so much time rifling through that stuff. ” This was an admission from a senior executive. His low grade, chronic depression keeps him in a rut.
Organizing. This is probably the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “executive problems in adults”. Your home is full of clutter. You leave the store without the one thing you went in for. Maybe you lose cell phones and keys. Or perhapsy you keep your tax receipts in shoe box and panic when tax season arrives. One extremely brilliant person whom I worked with talked about how he would panic when he traveled or work. Keeping his airline tickets, his passport, his wallet, his luggage all in order felt overwhelming.
In my work with clients, I have found skills building counseling approaches to be helpful. Skills building combines well with neurofeedback brain training to support and strengthen your brain’s executive functioning. If you would like to learn more, please have a look at my neurofeedback page.