Ever wondered why when you are against the clock everything seems to be against you? If you are superstitious perhaps you believe that fate is actually against you and it is punishing you for not leaving enough time. Perhaps you have negative self talk telling you if you had only left more time you wouldn’t be in such a pickle? Well believe it or not the answer lies not in the universe being against you, but instead in the unique way our brains are wired.
Picture the scene: you overslept your alarm and wake up 10 minutes before you should be leaving the house. You know that each element of your routine should only take a few minutes so in theory it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minute to leave the house but everything seems to be against you. You put your phone down somewhere and spend 5 minutes turning the sitting room upside down looking for it before you find it in the bathroom. You pour orange juice in your tea instead of milk and you have to boil the kettle all over again. And the icing on the cake – you pat your pocket as you walk down the street and realise that you have locked your house keys in the house and have to go to your partner’s office on the way in to work to make sure you can get in after work as they have plans that night. Is it fate – completely out of our control – or is something going on in your brain to prevent you for executing your tasks as you would like to? You guessed it, executive functions are the answer.
Yes I know, it is amazing how I manage to see EFs everywhere, but it is such an interesting lens to consider the challenges we face through, and in my view so helpful.
So what do EFs and neuroscience have to do this having a bad day? Well everything!
Let’s think about the example above. You wake up you realise you are late and you panic. What happens to our brain when we panic? We revert to our instinctual brain and bypass our prefrontal cortex where the executive functions are found.
Panic literally disconnects our EFs from our brain and makes it much more difficult for us to execute normal tasks. This is because the brain is hardwired to keep us safe in traditionally threatening environments – like an animal attack or an ambush. However, ironically it also kicks in when we panic about 21st century parts of our lives – like timekeeping. So exactly when we need our EFs to execute all the tasks we need to do to make up time quickly our emotional state renders our brains pretty useless for these tasks. Isn’t that ironic?
In practice this means that the working memory we need to remember that we left our phone on the shelf while we brushed our teeth is disabled, we are so preoccupied by running for the bus that we forget to even think about our keys and perhaps our emotional control is compromised so we have a little cry on the way to our partners office and probably an unhelpful cross word or two with ourselves about being “hopeless” .
The great news is that because our brains are malleable we can change these patterns and step out of the downward spiral of disaster when we are in panic mode. Techniques such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and in some cases simply understanding and visualising what is going on in our brains can help. Some people are happy to put these practices into place on their own whilst others have great intentions and never actually get around to it. Our executive function coaches have a plethora of helpful techniques to help us overcome our EF challenges, they are ready and waiting to help you find practical solutions to your challenges and set up bespoke strategies which really work for you.
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