Thinking and functioning well involves a set of pretty complicated processes that are usually lumped together under one big, overlapping, confusing, and somewhat wishy-washy label: Executive Functioning. Simplifying and separating tasks might help you know what you want or need to work on. With that in mind, let’s break this down, take one process at a time, and put each in context of our lives.
One Executive Function we use every day involves planning, adjusting our plan, and organizing /reorganizing that plan to best meet the needs of the circumstances. Think about a trip to the grocery store to make dinner. Let’s assume you know what you want to make for dinner and you know how to make everything on the menu. You make a list of ingredients; decide what you have already and what you need to buy; and you go the store. Usually, that works well. However, what happens if you walk into the store and find that it has been remodeled and most items are not where you expect to find them? To locate and get everything that you need most efficiently, you have to assess the changes, adjust your plan, and reorganize both your thoughts and your list.
This kind of planning and shifting is not easy for some people. Those who have experienced some kind of brain trauma – TBI, stroke, effects of chemo therapy, concussion, cardio or vascular disease, or simply accumulated effects of aging – often have a hard time making these shifts. This simple trip to the grocery store to make dinner could take 3 or 4 times longer than normal for simple reasons like the list does not match the layout of the store or items are not grouped in a way that will allow you to go to the right sections of the store to find what you need.
Sometimes developing strategies to make up for slips in planning and shifting can be very helpful. Creating extremely exhaustive plans – putting in every detail before you start your task – is one of those strategies. Putting in more detail than you need helps you think through the pitfalls in advance and not be so thrown by a change or shift. Starting out way too detailed will allow you to decide how much detail you really need. Practicing anticipating change can make you more comfortable with shifts since you have done it successfully.
Practice what you need because practice will help you succeed. Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds more success! Try playing our Scrambles game to get targeted executive functioning work-outs.
Next up, problem solving!