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  • Writer's pictureColorado Coherence Collective

An Introduction to Executive Functioning

Executive functioning skills are a series of learned abilities that are required to meet the demands of our social contexts. In other words, they help us meet expectations in daily life, achieve our goals, and experience success.

Executive functioning skills include the ability to:

  • Self-monitor

  • Regulate emotions

  • Maintain cognitive flexibility and openness

  • Inhibit impulses and urges

  • Organize self and environment

  • Plan and prioritize

  • Initiate tasks

  • Access and utilize working memory

  • Sustain attention

Everyone struggles with executive functions on occasion. Sometimes it can be fun to struggle with executive functions, like when we are engaging our brains in novel and meaningful learning or challenges, even leisurely. Sometimes it can be distressing, like when we have to do homework or meet a deadline, organize our homes, juggle responsibilities, prepare for a special event or season, and navigate complex social systems including education, tax, healthcare, employment, judicial, and others. For some people, these skills feel intuitive, come quickly and easily in most situations, and require minimal direct learning. For other people, these skills are difficult to develop and integrate into their routines without diligent and purposeful practice, and require explicit individualized instruction as well as implementation support.

Unfortunately, executive functioning skills are not commonly taught and reinforced by parents/caregivers at home, or professionals in schools or other settings, in an explicit manner that is developmentally appropriate for everyone. This is especially true when there is scarcity present, whether it be scarcity of time, resources, materials, support, awareness, knowledge, skills, or other tangible or intangible forms of scarcity. As a result, there are significant disparities between levels of executive functioning capabilities in our society, and many young adults feel underprepared to tackle the demands of their social contexts.

As we get older and the demands of our social contexts increase in complexity and intensity, these skills deficits become more and more challenging to manage. Adults with underdeveloped executive functioning skills struggle to keep up with their same-age peers, often leaving them feeling incompetent, confused, alone, and ashamed for their inability to display the same skills as their same-age peers. These individuals may struggle to initiate non-preferred tasks, instead engaging in avoidance behaviors and isolating themselves.

Over time, this may lead them to experience distressing experiences, such as shame, sadness and anhedonia, apathy and amotivation, low self-esteem, social isolation and loneliness, self-harming behaviors, or other clinically diagnosable conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, or others.

Many individuals can benefit from additional support in developing and practicing executive functioning skills, especially those who possess interest-based and threat-sensitive nervous systems, experience dysregulated dopamine, receive a formal diagnosis, or have other unique needs. This is often due to the fact that traditional and neuronormative methods of instruction do not meet their needs, and they do not possess the skills and/or resources necessary to identify and implement alternative strategies that meet their needs. These individuals may benefit from guided support with the following:

  • Exploring motivational and decision making styles

  • Learning new theories and evidence-based practices

  • Developing new paradigms about motivation, productivity, and sense of self

  • Reflecting on current habits and executive functioning

  • Identifying goals and areas for improvement

  • Experimenting with specific behavioral goals to increase understanding

  • Implementing individualized sustainable systems, structures, rituals, and routines

  • Adapting social context and environment to meet needs as much as possible

  • Requesting additional accommodations, as needed, from members of support team

  • Creating a sustainable plan for continued growth in the future to ensure success

If you can relate to any of the ideas shared here, know that you are not alone. We are eager to collaborate with individuals (aged 16+) and families, and are available for whatever frequency or duration of services best meets your current needs and capacities. Please email us at to share your needs and discuss ways we could support you.



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