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What is Executive Coaching from the perspective of the brain?

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

A: Coaching on the Executive functions of the Brain!

The Executive functions of the brain are a set of mental processes that enable individuals to regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions effectively.

These functions include:

  • (Long-term) Planning: The ability to set goals and create a roadmap to achieve them.

  • Organization: Arranging tasks and information in a logical order.

  • Initiation: Starting tasks or activities without procrastination.

  • Working Memory: Holding information in mind for short-term use.

  • Attention Control: Focusing on relevant information while ignoring distractions.

  • Inhibitory Control: Exercising self-control and resisting impulsive behaviors.

  • Emotional Regulation: Managing and modulating emotional responses.

These functions — as you are applying your own executive functions right here and now :) — are what an executive in business puts to the test, daily. But not only executives use the executive functions of their brain! Anyone who has goals and aspirations, uses these higher-order functions to strategize on their ambitions and navigate getting there. Yes, these abilities are crucial for complex problem-solving, abstract thinking, navigating life, and also for applying the useful ability to delay gratification.

A Basket of Fruit by Michaelangelo Caravaggio/Wikipedia

Comprehending our executive functions is closely linked to the broader exploration of the brain's functions. I'll structure comprehension along the evolution as humans:

Ancient Greece and Egypt (circa 400-300 BC)

The earliest documented observations of the brain date back to ancient Greece and Egypt. Early scholars, including Hippocrates and Aristotle, believed that the brain was the seat of intelligence and thought.

Renaissance (15th-16th century)

During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical studies included detailed drawings of the brain. However, understanding executive functions was still a distant goal.

The Phineas Gage Case (1848)

A significant turning point in understanding executive functions occurred with the famous case of Phineas Gage. An accident involving a railroad spike that damaged his frontal lobes led to profound personality changes. This event marked the beginning of the exploration of the brain's role in personality and decision-making.

Late 19th and 20th Centuries

Advances in neurology and psychology led to a deeper understanding of the brain's functions. Early theories about executive functions started to emerge, laying the foundation for modern research.

Contemporary Neuroscience: Today, advanced neuroimaging techniques such as functional MRI (fMRI) and PET scans allow scientists to study the brain's executive functions in detail. Researchers have identified specific brain regions, like the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that has evolved over these past 50.000 years, as key players in executive functioning.

By now, we have all learned that our executive functions are crucial for success in various aspects of life. They help individuals plan and complete tasks, make informed decisions, and navigate complex social situations. Our understanding of executive functions parallels the evolving knowledge about the brain itself and the further revealing of its “secrets".

As our comprehension of our cognitive command center deepens, we come closer to

- unlocking the full potential and further enhancing executive functions;

- improving educational and therapeutic approaches;

- and gaining valuable insights into human behavior and mental health both broadly as well as gaining equally valuable insights into the unique wiring of our own brain.

Which executive function(s) would you want to advance to support your higher aspirations?

Within the realm of which executive functioning do you think that you have blindspots? (Yes, this is a tricky one.)

Which executive functions have helped you reach the position you currently have?

How do you trigger using them? To which other function(s) of the brain does this relate?

What's your dream goal to achieve? Good luck! Reach out if you have questions, happy to elaborate.


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