By Donesa Walker, M.Ed., Owner of LearningRx of Shreveport-Bossier
Spring is here, spring fever is in the air and summer is truly on its way. So much is happening with graduations, getting ready for college, or even getting those babies and young ones set up for an amazing summer experience with camps and vacations ahead.
The stress/pace of this high-tech happening world surrounds our minds and it honestly gets super overwhelming sometimes, especially for those who already struggle in this area. The saying goes “when the cat’s away, the mice will play.” In other words, when there is not a strict demand of order, chaos reigns. This is true in the brain also and the skill most associated with this CEO position is called the Executive Function. Just as we all have different irises in our eyes and different face shapes, and unique fingerprints, so our brains vary from person to person. In fact, identical twins often have the same iris print, fingerprint and DNA/blood, but I have never seen/heard of the same exact brain function and in fact, of all the twin sets we have tested, none have tested exactly the same. This matters because some brains are incredibly creative and others are extremely organized. Some are easy to work with and others need to learn how to work with their own brain.
Executive Function (EF) is a set of skills that includes cognitive flexibility, and this has been determined to be one of the top ten skills necessary to compete in the job market by 2020. EF includes time management, emotional and behavioral control (EQ), initiative, attention, working memory and persistence (GRIT). So how do we measure these things in life and how do we approach the training of these skills to their upmost efficiency?
Many books are written on this very topic, but we are going to touch on just a few. First, a little biology. The prefrontal cortex, which is the area where most EF takes place, is still developing in young people up to their mid-twenties … necessary to know before you blame everything on the Millennials! New skills on average can take around 28 days/repetitions to become a habit, but those who struggle with Executive Function Disorder often take 3 times as long to develop these habits necessary to effective employment and successful academic performance.
As a mother of young men, I often see the struggle with managing this brain growth and steering it in the right direction. As a professional brain trainer, I often see “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Know what I mean? While many of these skills were still developing in us when our parents “trained” us, we did not have the technological affluence to add to the battle. Recent research and informational data loads have demonstrated that the youth brain in development is highly sensitive to the reward center receiving dopamine (the feel-good hormone) dumps just by touching their phones. Wow, and I thought a little chocolate was bad! Since the young, developing brain is constantly rewarded via technology for being off task and inattentive, the battle is harder than we realized, and this applies to adult brains, too.
So, what to do? Here is a list of tips to restructure and train the brain into a better state of EF.
- Perform a self-assessment. Be honest with yourself and write down the areas of struggle. Grade yourself, then also have at least one someone else (a friend, colleague, parent, spouse) “grade” you in the following areas 1-5, with 1 being weak skill and 5 being high skill (self-understanding, organizational skill, time management ability, emotional/behavioral control, flexibility, initiative, attention, memory, persistence.)
- Create a growth mindset by getting rid of all negative talk, especially self-talk. Research and scripture has taught us that this leads to a negative mindset and little is accomplished from that. Restate negative thoughts positively.
- Get an accountability partner who will “justly” not “rudely” hold you accountable for your successes and your failures.
- Change your perspective. The saying that “attitude determine altitude” is truth. If you are constantly seeking your own way and never looking objectively at the situation, then you will not make change. If at first, you don’t succeed, then try, try again!
- Reach out to professionals who can help. If you struggle with cognitive flexibility, attention, organizational skills or memory, reach out to a professional brain trainer like LearningRx or a local doctor who specializes in these areas. If you struggle with emotional/behavioral control, get with a counselor, psychologist, or behavioral therapist and seek help. If time management is an issue, there are lots of apps out to there to help you become better at this. If you struggle with initiative and persistence, partner with someone, even a parent or friend, to help you learn these skills.
Procrastination leads to failure. Get up and get going. Start now!
Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5:
- Self-understanding (I am truly aware of my strengths and weaknesses) _____
- Organizational skill (I can manage and organize my space/life/work details well) ______
- Time management ability (I am prompt and timely in my performance/attendance to expectations from others) ____
- Emotional/behavioral control (I do not let things around me overwhelm me to the point that I lose control) ____
- Flexibility (I can roll with the changes/punches life sends my way) ____
- Initiative (I can self-start, and I do not procrastinate to avoid people/situations) _____
- Attention Selective (I can focus and ignore distractions) ____
- Sustained (I can pay attention to even boring things for a long length of time) ___ Divided (I can multitask and not lose place of what I was doing) ____
- Memory Short term (I can remember what I am told and follow multi-step directions well) ____
- Long term (I can recall important information and details of events and happenings for a sustained period of time) ___
- Persistence (I do not give up and I will keep trying no matter how hard the situation is) _____
*Recommended self-intervention: The Executive Functioning Workbook for Teens by Sharon A. Hansen. Call LearningRx about a 30-hour seminar they are offering for these skills this summer.