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Executive Function: Key to Successful Living

If you think of life as a road trip with twists and turns, and unexpected obstacles, the ability to navigate boils down to a series of decisions about how you will get from one destination to the next. For highly functional individuals, avoiding pitfalls and achieving goals despite life’s obstacles is something we take for granted. We are able to process information, make confident decisions based on previous experience, and adapt when things do not go as planned.

But imagine not having the cognitive skills to navigate life’s obstacles. What if you were easily distracted and unable to prioritize tasks? Imagine setting a goal, but being unable to plan the steps to achieve it. What if you were completely overwhelmed by complicated tasks requiring multiple steps, and unable to complete them?

Many people suffer from executive dysfunction, a cognitive disorder that hampers the ability to successfully execute life’s daily tasks and solve problems.

What is Executive Function?

Executive function encompasses a set of cognitive skills that govern learning, behavior and development. Executive functioning skills are dependent on focused attention in order to complete tasks and solve problems. These cognitive skills are interconnected processes that allow for planning, organization, self-regulation, and memory.

Executive function skills include:

• Attention
• Emotional control
• Task initiation and completion
• Working memory
• Planning and prioritizing
• Organization
• Processing speed
• Self-monitoring and impulse control
• Cognitive flexibility
• Foresight and hindsight
• Problem solving
• Perseverance
• Ability to shift focus from one task to another

Executive functions are processed in the prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex regions of the brain.

Developing Executive Function

Executive function skills are not inherent at birth. They are developed from early childhood, and rely on a supportive environment and social systems that include positive family and peer relationships. Given the right environment, children cultivate good executive function skills that can be broken down into three subcategories:

• Mental flexibility: the ability to respond to demands and appropriately shift attention

• Self control: the ability to self-regulate impulses

• Working memory: the ability to adeptly manipulate information

Executive dysfunction is characteristic of certain developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The inability to process information and manage daily tasks can lead to poor self esteem and social isolation for both children and adults.

Lifestyle Coaching and Executive Function Skills

Lifestyle coaches can work with children and adults to overcome deficits in executive function. Therapy centers on managing tasks and situations the client deals with on a daily basis. For children, coaching may focus on study skills, self regulation and social interaction.

Aerobic fitness has been associated with executive function and academic performance in boys, and motor skills have been associated with executive functions in both boys and girls, and with academic performance in girls. Therefore, lifestyle coaching may encompass physical activity and motor skill development.


Certification is the first step to becoming a successful Lifestyle Coach. Begin with W.I.T.S. Certified Lifestyle Coach. Then, if you are not already certified, consider Personal Fitness Trainer, Older Adult Fitness Specialist or Youth Fitness certifications. Broadening your base of credentials correlates with expanding your career and making more money. As a Lifestyle Coach, you can have a significant impact on the lives of others, while building a solid reputation as a W.I.T.S. certified professional.

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