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Dear Executive function team--You're Fired!

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

If you have ADHD, like I do, most likely your toughest challenge is regulating yourself. Regulating your "attention" means making sure you "attend" (i.e. show up for, take note of, begin, follow through with) whatever it is you need to do.

But who decides WHAT you need to "attend" to? You guessed it--it's your executive function team! According to Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., developer of the Brown ADD Rating Scales that are used by clinicians to screen for attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, the executive functions impaired in ADHD are (in no particular order):

1) The Working Memory Function - This function gives us a temporary storage "shelf" to put our immediate thoughts on "hold" while our brain works on whatever it needs to do first. Ideally, this "holding shelf" in our brain will ensure that those other thoughts sit there patiently for a few minutes and wait their turn without disappearing into thin air.

2) The Effort (Maintenance) Function -This function provides us with the stamina (alertness, follow-through, and mental sharpness) to complete whatever it is we're doing. If we're starting to get sluggish, for example, this function steps in with a cup of coffee and cheers us on.

3) The Activation Function - Yup, the big one for many of us--this function plans, prioritizes, estimates the time a task will take, and then....gets STARTED on it! Kind of like the boss who says, "I need you to do this NOW," and gives you a dirty look until you assemble your materials and get to work.

4) The Action (Maintenance) Function - This function regulates behavior; that is, what we do, what we say, and how we act. This function modulates our movements, monitors our impulses, and gauges the appropriateness of our words and gestures. Kind of like a movie director who makes sure everything we do translates to the big screen.

5) The Focus (Maintenance) Function -This function is the "filter" that hones in like a laser on whatever we're doing and tunes out irrelevant stimuli. This function screens your calls, keeps you off Facebook, and pets your cat so she'll stop meowing for no reason when you're trying to finish something.

6) The Emotion (Maintenance) Function - When emotions are unregulated, our feelings--particularly the painful or uncomfortable ones, it seems--take center stage and interfere with whatever we're trying to accomplish. For example, our emotional maintenance executive function will swoop in when we're angry because our spouse was being a jerk moments ago, and say, "There, there, it's okay; I'll deal with him and his attitude--I promise--but for now I need you to finish that paperwork you were in the middle of."

So now that you understand what your executive functions are SUPPOSED to do, how well would you say they're performing their jobs? Is your "team" comprised of hardworking, responsible, executives who care about you and want you to succeed? Are some of your "people" working harder than they should because others among them are lazy or calling in sick when they're not?

If your "functions" aren't functioning, do something about it. You've got lots to do and you're spinning your wheels because of a few lousy employees?? I say, get rid of the slackers!!

Maybe it's time for you to hire and train some new executives to take over some of the workload. If so, what are you waiting for??

Does YOUR executive function team have what it takes?

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