Why is it so hard for me to complete simple tasks?
Why can’t I think before I speak?
Why can’t I create new habits and stick with them?
Have you ever asked yourself any of the above questions? Before I was diagnosed, those were the three questions I wondered about constantly. I didn’t understand why it could take me weeks to pay a bill, why it was so difficult to stop saying the first things that came to mind, or why I couldn’t seem to change any of my old habits for years.
The reasoning behind this and many other ADHD manifestations can be linked to executive functions.
What are Executive Functions?
It’s how we mentally engage in daily goal-directed activities. This can include self-control, working memory, problem-solving and emotional regulation. Executive functions are at the root of how we decide to speak or act in any number of scenarios.
They are responsible for how we:
- Pay attention
- Organize, plan, prioritize
- Understand other viewpoints
- Follow implicit and explicit rules
- Craft solutions to problems
Executive functions don’t develop simultaneously, but in a sequential structure beginning around age 2. Many researchers have linked ADHD manifestations to impairments in the development of executive functions.
Can I Learn to Use Them?
Yes, though it will take practice over a significant period of time. ADHD coaches, therapists and psychiatrists may recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for adults to learn strategies that make effective executive functioning possible with less concentrated effort.
How Can I Get Started?
I’ve only provided a very brief overview, and there’s a lot more to learn about executive functions and how they relate to ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions.
Understanding what they are, what they control, and how to use them may be helpful in your journey to living a happy life with ADHD.
Some additional resources you may find helpful:
- The Adult ADHD Mind: Executive Function Connections, Thomas E. Brown, PhD, excerpt from his book featured on ADDitude Magazine
- A Guide to Executive Function, an online guide Harvard University Center on the Developing Child
- Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, a book by Russell Barkley, PhD, 2010
- The ADHD-Executive Function Connection, webinar hosted by Thomas E. Brown, PhD, on ADDitude Magazine’s website
What executive function do you struggle with the most? Attention, planning, prioritization? Talk to me about it!