None (zip, zilch, ninguno): That’s how much EFS you had at the moment you were born. And if you didn’t have some now, you wouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning, because you couldn’t have planned how to do it, and you wouldn’t be reading this right now.
EF skills are controlled in a very small area in the right-front section of your brain – and we know that you’ve got one of those (a brain) or you wouldn’t be reading this – and they get better (in normal people, anyway) until sometime in the early to mid-20’s. Because you’re not there yet, your EFS aren’t as good now as they’re going to be, but you can still use them to very good effect and start making your life better right now.
We’ll now reveal the full name of our mystery guest: EFS is an acronym for Executive Functioning Skills, but don’t get scared away by a tough or academic name, because EFS are crucial to your current and future success, not to mention your life — and we’re going to tell you how to use your EFS to make life better and, in the process, help strengthen the skills themselves.
First, what are they?
According to Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child (CDC), EFS and their closely related self-regulation skills:
“…the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses…These skills are crucial for learning and development.”
Harvard’s CDC goes on to say that at its/their most basic level, “Executive function and self-regulation skills depend on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.”
On a more detailed level, Dr. Kari Miller (Director of Miller Educational Excellence, an educational therapy center in Los Angeles), writing in Special Education Advisor, calls EFS “Executive Functions,” and says that they “allow us to plan and organize our behavior, make well-considered decisions, overrule immediate desires in favor of longer-term goals, take conscious control of our emotions, and monitor our thoughts in order to work more efficiently and effectively.” She says that they’re “skills needed to effectively manage our lives,” and offers this description of each of them:
Planning and prioritizing: The ability to create a plan to complete a task or to develop an approach to achieving a goal. This skill includes making decisions about what to direct attention toward and the ordering of the steps needed to achieve the goal.
Time management: The sense that “time” is an important concept, the ability to accurately estimate how much time a task will take, knowing how to apportion your time, and how to stay within time constraints to meet deadlines.
Organization: The ability to arrange ideas or objects according to a defined structure.
Working Memory: The ability to remember information while using it to perform complex tasks.
Metacognition: The ability to take a top-down view of your problem-solving approach and to self-monitor and evaluate performance. [To be able to think about how you’re thinking.]
Response Inhibition: The power to resist the urge to say or to do something; taking time to think before acting.
Self-regulation of Affect: The ability to deal with emotions so that they don’t get in the way of completing tasks or achieving goals.
Task Initiation: The ability to start a task at the appropriate time without procrastination.
Flexibility: The ability to adapt your responses, behaviors and plans when necessary in order to achieve your goals.
Goal-directed Persistence: The ability to follow through to complete tasks and achieve goals.
Sustained Attention: The capacity to pay attention to a task, particularly if the task is not interesting.
Disengaging Attention: The ability to stop directing your attention towards one thing and direct it towards something else.
Regulation of Processing Speed: The ability to make a conscious decision about how slowly or quickly to perform a task based upon its importance to you.
…and it all makes sense, because if you can’t do those things, you can’t do almost anything of real value — including planning how to get out of bed in the morning.
We mentioned early that we’d be telling you how to use your EFS to make your life better and, in the process, help strengthen them. We will – in our next installment/blog on the topic of EFS.
Stay tuned - in fact, use some of your EFS to stay tuned.