Executive Function Skills: What They Are and How to Improve Them 

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Executive function skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, organize, focus, and achieve our goals. They are essential for learning, working, and managing daily life. However, some people may struggle with executive function skills due to various reasons, such as developmental delays, learning disabilities, or mental health issues. In this article, we will explain what executive function skills are, why they are important, and how executive skills counseling or coaching can help children, adolescents, and adults improve their executive function skills. 

What are executive function skills? 

Executive function skills are a set of cognitive processes and mental skills that help an individual plan, monitor, and successfully execute their goals. They include: 

  • Attentional control: The ability to focus on relevant information and ignore distractions. 
  • Working memory: The ability to hold and manipulate information in one’s mind for a short period of time. 
  • Inhibition: The ability to resist impulses and control impulses and emotions. 
  • Problem-solving: The ability to find solutions to challenges and obstacles. 
  • Flexible thinking: The ability to adapt to changing situations and perspectives. 
  • Self-awareness: The ability to monitor one’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions. 
  • Emotional regulation: The ability to manage and express emotions appropriately. 
  • Motivational regulation: The ability to initiate and sustain effort and interest in tasks and goals. 
  • Planning and organization: The ability to set and prioritize goals, create and follow plans, and manage time and resources. 
  • Self-monitoring: The ability to evaluate and adjust one’s own performance and behavior. 

These skills are often interrelated and work together to support our executive functioning. For example, to complete a project, we need to use our attentional control, working memory, inhibition, problem-solving, flexible thinking, planning and organization, and self-monitoring skills. 

Why are executive function skills important? 

Executive function skills are important for many aspects of our lives, such as academic achievement, career success, and personal well-being. They help us: 

  • Learn new information and skills 
  • Follow instructions and directions 
  • Complete tasks and assignments 
  • Manage time and deadlines 
  • Organize materials and spaces 
  • Make decisions and choices 
  • Solve problems and overcome challenges 
  • Communicate and collaborate with others 
  • Regulate and cope with emotions 
  • Pursue and achieve goals 

Research has shown that executive function skills are linked to various positive outcomes, such as higher grades, test scores, graduation rates, college readiness, job performance, income, health, and happiness. On the other hand, poor executive function skills can lead to difficulties in school, work, and life, such as lower academic achievement, dropout, unemployment, substance abuse, mental health problems, and criminal behavior. 

How can executive skills counseling or coaching help? 

Executive skills counseling or coaching is a form of professional support that aims to help individuals improve their executive function skills. While it can be incorporated into traditional counseling or therapy (especially cognitive-behavioural or solution-focused approaches), not all therapists have background knowledge and training in executive function skills coaching or counseling. On the flip-side, there are also executive skills coaches who have background in helping people to focus on learning executive skills and will focus on specific, measurable goals, but they do not have the background and training to combine these with understanding of the role of emotional or relational issues. Executive skills counseling or coaching can help children, adolescents, and adults who struggle with executive function skills due to various reasons, such as developmental delays, learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, brain injury, or mental health issues. 

Executive skills counseling or coaching typically involves: 

  • Assessing the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in executive function skills 
  • Identifying the individual’s goals and challenges in executive function skills 
  • Developing a personalized plan and strategy to improve executive function skills 
  • Providing feedback, guidance, and encouragement to implement the plan and strategy 
  • Monitoring and evaluating the progress and outcomes of the plan and strategy 
  • Adjusting the plan and strategy as needed 

Executive skills counseling or coaching can be delivered in various formats, such as individual or group sessions, face-to-face or online, or in school, work, or home settings. The duration and frequency of executive skills counseling or coaching may vary depending on the individual’s needs and preferences. 

Some of the benefits of executive skills counseling or coaching are: 

  • Increased awareness and understanding of executive function skills 
  • Enhanced motivation and confidence in executive function skills 
  • Improved performance and productivity in executive function skills 
  • Reduced stress and frustration in executive function skills 
  • Greater satisfaction and fulfillment in executive function skills 

Conclusion 

Executive function skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, organize, focus, and achieve our goals. They are essential for learning, working, and managing daily life. However, some people may struggle with executive function skills due to various reasons, such as developmental delays, learning disabilities, or mental health issues. Executive skills counseling or coaching can help children, adolescents, and adults improve their executive function skills by providing personalized and professional support. Executive skills counseling or coaching can help individuals increase their awareness, motivation, confidence, performance, productivity, and satisfaction in executive function skills. If you or someone you know needs help with executive function skills, RMPS offers in-person or virtual executive function counseling services. Contact us at 403-245-5981 or intake@rmpsychservices.com to find out more information or to book your appointments.  

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