What is Executive Functioning?
Executive functions include the ability to initiate, plan and organize, set goals, solve problems, regulate emotions, and monitor behavior. These abilities are critical for success in today’s high-pressure society, and deficient executive function can lead to disorganization, poor work habits, impulsive behavior, and a variety of other undesirable outcomes.
While evidence supports that physical exercise contributes to executive function in both children and adults an exercise regimen is insufficient to correct any executive dysfunction (Davis et al., 2011). Training programs with increasing demands on executive function are most effective. Given how important executive functions are to our academic and professional success, it is important to address any executive function issues early in life as it minimizes the need of having to correct habits formed to compensate for the weak cognitive skills.
Scientific studies reveal cognitive skills can be greatly improved with proper cognitive training and coaching (Diamond & Lee, 2011) while other studies reveal the importance of in-person training to ensure student engagement and motivation (Jaeggi, 2008 and 2014), which are critical to program success.
Executive functions are reliant on our automatic processing as well as our supervisory system, which is also called our executive control. In other words, executive function is dependent on subconscious processes that should occur automatically and conscious processes that require our oversight. The executive component relies on our prefrontal cortex while the automatic processing component is defined by the degree to which three primary cognitive skills operate effectively and interdependently, namely our attention, working memory and processing speed.
Usually a weakness in any of these areas or in their interaction leads to some of the following symptoms:
Why Teaching, Training & Coaching are essential for Executive Function:
Given the importance of supervisory controls combined with automatic processing improvements to remediate any executive dysfunction, it is imperative to the success of any program that the training must be conscientious for it to be effective. Trainees need to understand what, why and how the process works to help them learn more effectively. It is up to the professional working with them to transmit this knowledge in a way that is age-appropriate. The foundation for enhanced learning is technique-based. Trainees learn what techniques are used to strengthen individual cognitive skills. While not every skill relies on multiple techniques, there can be multiple techniques for a single skill.
Our primary methods are drill and practice. First, we implement the drilling and practicing of cognitive exercises that adapt and evolve as skills improve; this is paired with personalized strategy coaching aimed at developing ways to support the areas that are weak. Hence, our primary methods are training based, which is essential to improving one’s underlying skills and abilities. Some generalize naturally, particularly with attention and processing speed. Other skills, such as organization, planning, and long-term memory, often require more active management and involvement on behalf of the client/patient.
Our secondary methods are coaching and consulting based, wherein we ensure that the individual is applying the skills gained to real life responsibilities. In this regard we transition from training to applying. This is an important step is which the client purposefully works to apply his improved skills so that generalization can be automated and actively managed. This is a particularly important point for K-12 students who may not automatically transfer the gains achieved through primary methods. It is also critical for those working to recover or restore mental abilities (cognitive remediation therapy).