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Helpful Things To Know About Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning can be complicated. Often associated with neurodiversity, it is not limited to neurodiverse and is seen in those who identify with having neurotypical brain functions.

Identifying as neurodivergent can make executive functioning skills more difficult in everyday life. Neurodiversity can include but is not limited to ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

It can take extra effort to support executive functioning skills when you experience neurodiversity, and it doesn’t have to be impossible. The tools you need are already within you.

Acknowledging neurodiversity can often be the first step in helping you work with it throughout your life. When you are able to name characteristics, things start to make sense.

It doesn’t have to be a shameful label but rather a way to start taking care of yourself in a way that best supports you. If you do identify shame around being neurodivergent, a trusted professional like a therapist can help. At Denver Metro Counseling, several therapists specialize in support for individuals with ADHD specifically.

Whether you identify as neurodivergent or not, executive functioning skills include:

  • paying attention
  • organizing/planning/prioritizing
  • regulating emotions
  • initiating tasks
  • flexibility
  • self-monitoring
  • understanding different points of view

    Image of a person changing the word impossible to possible by flipping over wooden cube. Read More: “How To Make Lasting Changes With ADD/ADHD”

Being neurodivergent can impact the way your brain processes these skills. You may overcompensate or give up in some areas because of the effort. You do not have to perfect every skill, and you can make progress by gently working with yourself.

The present moment can help your future self, which is the version of you that appreciates past actions that you have completed.

For example, a small task can delight your future self when you realize that you no longer have that task to complete.

When you have strong executive function skills, you may feel like you have more self-discipline and are able to complete tasks easily.

However, you can have self-discipline and can strengthen when you identify as neurodiverse.

A growth mindset can help you fill in an executive function deficit. When you experience difficulty or despair over executive functioning weaknesses, remember that it is possible to improve with perseverance, learning flexibility, self-forgiveness and a willingness to learn.

You don’t have to do everything right now because that may feel overwhelming, and there are ways to provide care in the moment that can help you in the future, using practical strategies and mental skills.

Here are 5 tasks that can improve your executive functioning skills:

1. Make your bed each morning.
This can help strengthen your skill of initiating tasks. It may feel like a monumental task when you wake up, and your future self will love you for it.

There is a sense of accomplishment when you come back to bed in the evening and you don’t have to swim in an ocean of sheets that were not made that morning.

Lack of task initiation is one of the executive functioning issues, and you can still take care of your mental health when you practice your executive skills. Thank yourself in advance with this task.

2. Give yourself permission to fidget.
When your working memory is busy with a distraction like a pop it, a popular fidget, you can better focus your attention on the task at hand.

Fidgets can also help you improve your impulse control and cognitive skills and reduce the amount of skin, nail, or other picking that might be used to soothe.

You are not too old to engage in something that keeps your hands busy, especially when you are working to improve your skill of paying attention. Improving upon an executive function skill can help you to feel more confident in your ability to master a task.

3. Meditate and practice mindfulness.

Image of a bearded man is meditating outdoor in the park with face raised up to sky and eyes closed on sunny summer day. Read More: “What Is Mindfulness and How To Be Mindful”

This can be an overwhelming task in the moment, and your future self will thank you for an outlet to regulate emotions and improve your emotional control.

Meditation doesn’t have to look a certain way. You don’t need to buy any clothes, pillows, blankets, or chimes (though you can if it helps).

Even if your meditation is one-minute initially, notice the thoughts you have in the moment and take a breath.

Meditation is a way to provide a space for breath, which you can tap into again when you feel emotionally dysregulated. Engaging in tasks mindfully, with intention, can help improve your regulation of emotions, staying focused, prioritizing tasks and much more.

Learn more about meditation and mindfulness here.

4. Put your toothbrush on the other side of your sink.
When you engage in a small, new task, you support yourself with mental flexibility. When you identify as neurodiverse, you can get forgetful.

Your risk with a new task doesn’t have to be monumental, and you can become improve flexible thinking when you build new neuropathways in your brain.

This is a helpful task for everyone because it helps you develop memory strength.

5. Make yourself a visual schedule and/or to-do list.

When it comes to planning and scheduling, it can be really helpful to carve out time to complete planning before the task so that it doesn’t seem unexpected when it arrives. This can also prevent executive functioning difficulties.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you identify as neurodiverse, so allot for plan time. That way, you can take it one small step at a time.

Sometimes, executive functioning difficulties can impact academic achievement or academic performance. A child or adult can experience lower self-esteem as a result. You are capable of strengthening skills no matter what.

Not every skill is easy and you can simplify them.

Image of a handholding a black heart-shaped sign with the text I love me written in it, on a pink background. Read More: “Five Truths About Self-Love: The Benefits And How-Tos”. 

Narrowing down to one list and one schedule can also be helpful.

Work from one spot.

When you know how much time each task takes, it can help guide your focus and encourage paying attention as well.

Your morning to-do list can be as simple as listing each task you need to feel successful. Write the to-do list before you need to complete the task so that you are ready.

Thank yourself when you have completed a task that was really helpful to you. Positive encouragement works on yourself too.

Executive functioning can be strengthened when you prioritize tasks that are meaningful to your life. Whether you identify as neurodivergent or not, it can be difficult to make decisions now that will impact your future.

Thinking about what hasn’t happened doesn’t always mean anxiety, it can also be a way to take meaningful preventative steps in your life. You don’t have to dwell on outcomes, and you can support yourself now to help yourself later.

Learn More About ADHD Therapy

Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC

Denver Metro Counseling is a group of Denver therapists who provide teen therapy, young adult therapy, adult therapy, family therapy and other counseling and therapy in Denver and throughout Colorado. We specialize in relationships, codependency, communication and boundaries and provide supportive therapy for people struggling with life transitions,  trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more
Denver Metro Counseling

Our Clinician’s Bios:
Jessica Wright, MS, LPC, LPCC
Audrey Bristol, LSW
Molly Ward, LCSW
Karan Steuart, LCSW, LAC
Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACC, ACS

Follow Denver Metro Counseling on Facebook: Denver Metro Counseling and Instagram: @denvermetrocounseling for other helpful information.