Executive functions are defined as higher-level cognitive skills established in the frontal lobes of a person’s brain. They are abilities to control emotions, thoughts, and actions to enhance productivity and brain performance (Gkintoni et al., 2022). In a workplace setting, executive function skills relate to cognitive processes responsible for organizing, initiating, planning, and completing tasks. In this blog, I will discuss the 4 best ways adults can enhance their executive functioning skills.
The simplest definition of mindfulness is the ability to create awareness of an individual's internal states and external surroundings. It is one of the most effective approaches to avoiding destructive and negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It can therefore be significant in enhancing the executive functioning of the adult group.
There are several ways mindfulness can improve executive functioning in adults. For one, it is important in improving working memory, which refers to the ability to manipulate information in the brain for a short time. This enables adults to remember and process work-related programs effectively. Mindfulness practice also enhances attention in adults. According to Hepark et al. (2019), mindfulness can help advance attention and focus, vital executive function skills needed in the workplace.
Promoting cognitive flexibility is another way mindfulness enhances the executive functioning of adults. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch between tasks, ideas, or perspectives for better performance, and it is important in helping individuals adapt to changing workplace demands and be more effective in their roles. Mindfulness can also aid in decision-making by helping individuals make more informed and effective decisions.
Regular exercise is one of the evidence-based practices that enhances the executive functioning of adults. According to numerous sources, there are several ways exercise can help improve executive functions, especially in the workplace. As Kashani-Vahid et al. (2017) report, exercise increases creativity, essential in promoting innovation and problem-solving skills. It also increases the rate of blood, oxygen, and nutrients flow to the brain and, in the process, enhances the process of cognitive functioning of adults.
A regular exercise routine also improves the mood of adults. It lowers the rate of stress and anxiety, thus helping develop improved cognitive skills. Other studies show that regular exercise promotes sleep quality, an important element of mental wellness and cognitive processes (Mikkelsen et al., 2017). Other key significances of exercise in promoting executive functioning skills are that it improves cognitive flexibility, increases attention and focus at work, enhances memory capability, and reduces stress and anxiety.
Nutrition plays a major role in mental development and processing. The food you eat can significantly determine the executive functioning skills of adults. However, some diets, when used regularly and in a balanced manner, greatly enhance adults' cognitive and executive functioning. According to Kris-Etherton et al. (2021), a diet rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium help in the conversion of α-linolenic acid to longer-chain n-3 fatty acids; n-3 fatty acids, which is a component associated with the improvement of mental wellness.
A healthy diet can provide the nutrients needed for optimal cognitive function. Studies show that sugary foods, artificial sweeteners, gluten, and processed vegetable oils rich in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids have an adverse effect on mental development and executive functioning.
Social support has a tremendously positive effect on executive function. It involves finding time to engage with friends, family members, and colleagues in promoting mental wellness and cognitive functioning. There are numerous ways social support can help improve the development of executive functions in adults (Tezci et al., 2015). For one, it helps reduce stress, which can negatively influence executive function. A supportive network of friends, family, or colleagues can provide emotional support and help individuals cope with stress.
Having social support increases motivation. As Tezci et al. (2015) report, it is an excellent aid for motivation and accountability, and this is essential in helping adults stay focused and on task. It is particularly helpful in the workplace setting, where employees may need to juggle multiple tasks or projects. Additionally, it also helps in the development of advanced problem-solving skills: It can offer different viewpoints and ideas, which can improve problem-solving skills (Tezci et al., 2015). Collaborating with others can help individuals think creatively and develop innovative solutions.
Moreover, seeking professionals' aid can also help improve adults' executive functions. For instance, professionals can provide training and coaching programs that enhance executive function (Synnott et al., 2016). Coaches and trainers can offer guidance and support to help the victims develop and enhance executive function skills. This can include strategies for time management, organization, and decision-making.
Professional support provides therapy that improves cognitive functioning skills. This can help the individuals identify and address the underlying conditions affecting the development of their skills (Synnott et al., 2016). Seeking the aid of professionals and experts also provide skill-building programs: These are essential in providing structured support and guidance for individuals looking to improve their skills.
Further, professional support can also include accommodations and modifications in the workplace or academic setting. This can include changes to the physical environment, such as noise reduction or ergonomic adjustments, or modifications to work tasks or assignments.
In summary, the four major ways of improving executive functioning skills in adults include; Practicing Mindfulness, prioritizing a regular exercise routine, trying a healthy diet program, and seeking social and professional support to improve executive functioning. Mindfulness can help improve cognitive and executive functions by promoting cognitive flexibility, enhancing working memory, and promoting attention. Exercise, on the other hand, helps in improving sleep quality, mood, attention, and problem-solving skills. Social and professional support are also important because they provide motivation, therapy, and training programs to improve executive functioning skills. With that being said, success in the improvement of the skills can be achieved when the four interventions are used collaboratively by the victim.
Gkintoni, E., Halkiopoulos, C., & Antonopoulou, H. (2022). Neuroleadership an Asset in Educational Settings: An Overview. Emerging Science Journal. Emerging Science Journal, 6(4), 893–904.
Hepark, S., Janssen, L., de Vries, A., Schoenberg, P. L., Donders, R., Kan, C. C., & Speckens, A. E. (2019). The efficacy of adapted MBCT on core symptoms and executive functioning in adults with ADHD: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Attention Disorders, 23(4), 351-362.
Kashani-Vahid, L., Afrooz, G., Shokoohi-Yekta, M., Kharrazi, K., & Ghobari, B. (2017). Can a creative interpersonal problem-solving program improve creative thinking in gifted elementary students? Thinking skills and creativity, pp. 24, 175–185.
Kris-Etherton, P. M., Petersen, K. S., Hibbeln, J. R., Hurley, D., Kolick, V., Peoples, S., ... & Woodward-Lopez, G. (2021). Nutrition and behavioral health disorders: depression and anxiety. Nutrition Reviews, 79(3), 247–260.
Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48-56.
Synnott, A., O’Keeffe, M., Bunzli, S., Dankaerts, W., O'Sullivan, P., Robinson, K., & O'Sullivan, K. (2016). Physiotherapists report improved understanding of and attitude toward the cognitive, psychological and social dimensions of chronic low back pain after cognitive functional therapy training: a qualitative study. Journal of physiotherapy, 62(4), 215–221.
Tezci, E., Sezer, F., Gurgan, U., & Aktan, S. (2015). A study on social support and motivation. The Anthropologist, 22(2), 284-292.