What the Heck Is My Executive Functions Capacity?
If you read our blogs or have worked with us, you might be wondering what the executive functions capacity we are talking about is and why it is so important. Good question. In a not- so-good answer, it is our capacity to perform our executive functioning skills. Haha, yes, I just took the phrase you were confused about and added more words. To really understand this, we have to understand executive functions in the brain. How does this magnificent organ that is known as the command center of our bodies work? Without diving into a full-on Biology lesson, our brain is split up into 4 lobes, one of which is called the frontal lobe. Our executive functions dwell in a part of this lobe called the prefrontal cortex.
This region is in charge of planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. In short, it allows us to perform purposeful, goal-orientated behaviors in an unstructured environment. For a more in-depth explanation, check out our “What are executive functioning skills” blog. Next time you are thinking really hard with your executive functions, touch your forehead, there is a reason why it is so hot!
Our executive functions are really important and do a lot of fancy activities. It helps us with solving problems, expressing how we feel, making decisions, and controlling our impulses in social situations. It must get tiring right? Executive functioning skills sound like a full time job! Well, it is. This is why our brains only do it part-time. You see, when you are really familiar with an activity, your executive functions don’t have to work as hard because you are not making as many conscious decisions. However, when we are put into new unstructured situations, our executive functions are overloaded. It takes a lot of energy! This energy is our executive functions capacity.
Why Knowing About Executive Functions Capacity is So Important
So, executive functions capacity is a form of energy. This must mean that there is a limited supply of it. Recognizing that your energy source to make decisions, regulate emotions, and think critically under stressful situations is crucial. Having this self-awareness, regardless of whether or not you have an executive function disorder will help you better manage your daily life. One of the most important lessons that we teach students at EFC is that it is okay to take a break. We can’t magically refuel our executive functions capacity like we would do for a car. If we don’t take a break, we can risk burning out. Taking breaks and doing activities that excite other parts of your brain will give the prefrontal cortex the time it needs to refuel. Sometimes a walk around your block or jamming out to your favorite song is all that is needed to recharge your executive functions capacity.
Why Does it Feel like My Executive Functions Capacity is Nonexistent? How Do I Change That?
Sometimes when we are talking about executive functions, students look at us and say I don’t think I have any capacity to do that! That may actually be true if they have an executive function disorder, but that does not mean we can’t do anything about it. You see, executive functions in the brain can be trained so they come more naturally and take up less energy. Some of our brains just naturally have a lower capacity and executive functions are just so hard that one or two of them eat up all of our fuel. How do we help solve that? Well, we introduce strategies that reduce the amount of energy that is eaten up. Having an executive functions coach walk you through these strategies, implement them, and keep you accountable will make a world of a difference. These strategies eat up less fuel because they use other forms to break down a task and make it more manageable for your capacity. It introduces structure to an otherwise structureless activity. Using them with the proper guidance is a great way to train your executive functions to eat up less fuel. Learn about different strategies by subscribing to our executive functions newsletter.