Executive functions…What for?

Last week we talked about what executive functions are, how they develop and what they are. In case you missed the post, I’ll tell you again here:

Executive functions are those cognitive skills that allow us to regulate and control our behavior. They are essential for decision making, adapting to the environment, making plans, anticipation….

The part of our brain that allows their development is the frontal lobe. That is to say, these functions develop gradually with the interaction with the environment and as our frontal lobe creates new connections. That is, they begin to develop at a very early age (from the first year of life) and reach their peak between 6 and 8 years of age to continue to improve during adolescence and until about 20 years of age.

But the million dollar question is: what are these functions for? Why is it so important and necessary to stimulate them from a very young age? The answer is simple, part of their development depends on the environment – that is why it is important to stimulate them. On the other hand, if we say that they are those cognitive skills that allow us to regulate our behavior, it means that they are necessary for any task we develop.

Let’s look at examples for each of these executive functions that we hear about the most:

Inhibition: the ability we have to reject certain stimuli and focus on the task we are performing. This is what allows us to focus on a conversation even when we hear noise from the street. It also allows us to regulate our emotions and feelings, that is why we do not go “punching” through life every time we are angry even if we feel like doing it.

Flexibility: is the ability that allows us to modify strategies on the fly or introduce changes to solve a problem or adapt to the environment in which we find ourselves, even if it is not what we expected or planned. It allows us to be creative when looking for alternatives. That is why, if we are in a presentation and the boss gives us a “funny” face, we can change the course of our talk and give it another approach even if it is not exactly what we had planned.

Working memory: is that function that allows us to keep certain information in our minds for a certain amount of time so that we can “operate” with it. When we are dictated a telephone number and we can retain it until we write it down (as long as it is not the next day or the next hour, because it is very likely that we will forget it – memory is wonderful and discards what it considers useless). Or what allows us to write in a dictation.

Time management: is what allows us to make a more or less approximate calculation to avoid being late to places, or to be able to finish a task. It is perhaps the function that fails us the most in the day to day to the vast majority of people, but it is essential to be able to develop all the tasks of the day to day.

Monitoring: sometimes we forget about this executive function, which is of paramount importance. It is what allows us to maintain control over the task we are performing. It is what makes us “return” to the activity when we try to evade or what allows us to correct failures in time.

Planning: we could say that it is the ability we have to “think ahead”. In other words, to design the way in which we are going to execute a task to reach a specific goal. We use this function even to do the shopping when we think about what we need to prepare dinner or the children’s snacks every day. Not to mention when packing our suitcases and, if we go even further, when designing a project.

As you can see, executive functions are in our day, without us realizing it, during all stages of our lives. We all, from a young age, need to develop our executive functions.

In another post we will give you some ideas on how to do it in a fun way.

See you next day!

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