Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families.

Executive function and self-regulation skills depend on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.

The successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.
Each type of executive function skill draws on elements of the others.
  • Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
  • Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.
  • Self-control enables us to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses.

Children aren’t born with these skills—they are born with the potential to develop them. If children do not get what they need from their relationships with adults and the conditions in their environments—or (worse) if those influences are sources of toxic stress—their skill development can be seriously delayed or impaired. Adverse environments resulting from neglect, abuse, and/or violence may expose children to toxic stress, which disrupts brain architecture and impairs the development of executive function.

By focusing on real-life daily situations such as bedtime and mealtime, the Ready4Routines intervention seeks to strengthen executive function skills in adults and children, while also increasing predictability within young children’s lives.

Providing the support that children need to build these skills at home, in early care and education programs, and in other settings they experience regularly is one of society’s most important responsibilities. Growth-promoting environments provide children with “scaffolding” that helps them practice necessary skills before they must perform them alone. Adults can facilitate the development of a child’s executive function skills by establishing routines, modeling social behavior, and creating and maintaining supportive, reliable relationships. It is also important for children to exercise their developing skills through activities that foster creative play and social connection, teach them how to cope with stress, involve vigorous exercise, and over time, provide opportunities for directing their own actions with decreasing adult supervision.


What Is Executive Functioning?

By: Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel

The term "executive functioning" has become a common buzzword in schools and psychology offices. This is more than just a passing fad. In fact, neuropsychologists have been studying these skills for many years. We believe that the focus on executive functioning represents a significant advancement in our understanding of children (and adults!) and their unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.

A Formal Definition of Executive Functioning

Now (drum roll please), here is a formal definition of executive functioning:

The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.

What mental control skills are covered under this umbrella? Different researchers and practitioners have their own favorite lists, although the overall concept is basically the same. We use the list proposed by Drs. Gerard A. Gioia, Peter K. Isquith, Steven C. Guy, and Lauren Kenworthy. These psychologists developed their understanding of executive functions through sound research and created a rating scale that helps parents, teachers, and professionals understand a particular child and think more specifically about how to help.

Before looking at the list of specific characteristics encompassed by the broad category of executive functions, we'd like to provide an example that makes the concepts more concrete.

Understanding Executive Functions by Looking at Life without Them

Thinking about what life is like for someone with weak executive functioning gives us a better understanding of the way these core skills affect our ability to manage life tasks. In the interest of making the concepts immediately relevant and meaningful, our example focuses on an adult, since we assume that most people reading this book are adults, too. Throughout the rest of the book we've included mostly examples of executive functioning in younger people.

The Road Trip without a Map

We'd like to tell you a story about our friend, Robin, who lives life without the benefit of strong executive functioning. Robin is a composite of many individuals we have known, and she struggles with weaknesses in executive skills, despite her well-intentioned efforts to reform herself.

One day in May, Robin gets a phone call from her Aunt Sue in Merryville, Missouri. Aunt Sue is planning a family reunion in July, and she wants to know if Robin and her family can come. All of the extended family will be there. The little town will be overrun with relatives and it is going to be a great corralling of the family from all across the United States. Robin is excited at the prospect and eagerly says, "Of course we'll be there! We wouldn't miss it!"

Aunt Sue gives Robin all the particulars, including the dates of the reunion and places to stay. Robin rummages around in the kitchen junk drawer for a pencil while her aunt talks, but she never does find one with a point on it. She promises to herself to find a pencil and write down all the details just as soon as she gets off the phone. But by the time she hangs up, she can't remember the specifics. She makes a mental note to call back soon to get the dates.

That evening, Robin excitedly tells her husband and two children about the reunion. Her husband asks when it will take place. "Some time in July. I don't remember exactly." He says, "Well, please find out this week because I have to request vacation time at work." Their fifteen-year-old son exclaims, "Hey, I thought July was when I was supposed to go to Band Camp!" "Didn't you remember?" Robin's daughter practically shouts, "I'm going to Ocean City with Julie and her family sometime in July." Robin blows up at them all, yelling, "Why are you all being so negative? This is supposed to be fun!"

About once a week, Robin's husband reminds her to get the information about the reunion. She promises to do so. (And she really means to get around to it!) Finally, in June, Robin's husband gets very annoyed and says, "Do it now! I'm going to stay right here in the kitchen until you call!" Robin makes the call and gets the dates as well as the other particulars. Her husband harrumphs around the house the rest of the evening because now he has only three weeks left before the requested time-off. Luck is on their side, though, because he manages to arrange the vacation around work, and the reunion dates do not conflict with the kids' activities.

Over the next three weeks, thoughts about the trip float through Robin's head from time to time. She thinks about how the kids will need to have things to do in the car since it's a long trip. She thinks about taking food and snacks for the ride. She thinks about getting her work at the office cleared up in advance so she can be free of commitments for the vacation. She thinks, "I really should take care of that stuff."

A few days before it is time to leave for the two-day drive to Missouri, she starts piling stuff into the van, including clothes and other supplies. (You can only imagine what the inside of this van looks like!)

Finally, it's time to pile the people into the van, too. On the way out of the house, one of the kids asks, "Who will be taking care of the cats while we're gone?" Robin moans, "Oh no! I forgot about that. We can't just leave them here to die and there's no one to take care of them! Now we can't go. What will we tell Aunt Sue?" Her husband takes over, and starts calling around the neighborhood until he finds a teenager who can do the pet sitting. The crisis passes. The cats will be fine.

So, they're off. Robin's husband drives the first shift. He pulls out of the neighborhood, gets onto the main highway, and then asks, "So, what's the game plan? What's the route?" Robin answers, "Missouri is west, so I know we have to go west." He looks at Robin incredulously and says, "You don't know any more details than that? Well, get out the map. We can't just head west with no more information that that!" And, of course, Robin says, "What map? I don't have a map." Robin's husband sighs and shakes his head. "Oh no! Another road trip without a map! Why didn't you tell me you were having trouble getting it all organized? I could have helped." Robin replied, "I didn't have any trouble. Everything is fine. We're in the car, aren't we? We'll get there. What are you so upset about?"

Do you think Robin had made reservations for where to stay along the way? Do you think she had planned out how much cash they would need for the trip or made it to the bank ahead of time? These and many other details, of course, had escaped planning.

A List of Executive Functions

With this example as a base, let's turn back to the question of what specific abilities are covered under the umbrella term of executive functioning. Below is the list of executive functions from Dr. Gioia and his colleagues. We've included a specific illustration of each executive function from our case study of Robin in parentheses after each definition.

  1. Inhibition - The ability to stop one's own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity; if you have weak ability to stop yourself from acting on your impulses, then you are "impulsive." (When Aunt Sue called, it would have made sense to tell her, "Let me check the calendar first. It sounds great, but I just need to look at everybody's schedules before I commit the whole family.")
  2. Shift - The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. (When the question emerged regarding who would watch the cats, Robin was stymied. Her husband, on the other hand, began generating possible solutions and was able to solve the problem relatively easily.)
  3. Emotional Control - The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings. (The example here is Robin's anger when confronted with her own impulsive behavior in committing the family before checking out the dates: "Why are you all being so negative?")
  4. Initiation - The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies. (Robin thought about calling to check on the date of the reunion, but she just didn't get around to it until her husband initiated the process.)
  5. Working memory - The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task. (Robin could not keep the dates of the reunion in her head long enough to put them on the calendar after her initial phone call from Aunt Sue.)
  6. Planning/Organization - The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands. (In this case, Robin lacked the ability to systematically think about what the family would need to be ready for the trip and to get to the intended place at the intended time with their needs cared for along the way.)
  7. Organization of Materials - The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. (It was Robin's job to organize the things needed for the trip. However, she just piled things into the car rather than systematically making checklists and organizing things so important items would be easily accessible, so the space would be used efficiently, and so that people and "stuff" would be orderly and comfortable in the car.)
  8. Self-Monitoring - The ability to monitor one's own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected. (Despite the fact that they're off to Missouri without knowing how to get there, with almost no planning for what will happen along the way, and without a map, Robin does not understand why her husband is so upset.)

The executive functions are a diverse, but related and overlapping, set of skills. In order to understand a person, it is important to look at which executive skills are problematic for her and to what degree.

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생존은 프랙탈이다.


생존은 프랙탈이다.

프랙탈구조는 고비마다 새로운 돌파구가 생겨나는

성장구조이자 생존구조입니다.

마디마디 새로운 생명을 잉태합니다.

인생도 문제의 연속입니다

문제문제마다 새로운 기회가 생겨납니다

두세개의 복수로 뻣어나가지요

좁디좁은 보도블록사이로 몸을 내밀어

뻣어나가는 새끼담쟁이 같은 생명력을 보세요

우리가 배울 것이 많은 생존게임입니다.


프랙탈(fractal) 카오스(chaos) 이론에서 복잡계(complex system)의 성질 중 하나를 나타내는 용어입니다. 나무의 가지치기 방식이나 구름의 모양, 해안선, 폐포(肺胞) 콩팥의 구조 등과 같이 불규칙하고 복잡한 자연현상을 연구하던 학자들은 그 현상들도 실제로는 놀라울 정도로 간단한 규칙들의 지배를 받는다는 것을 발견하였습니다. 단지 그 법칙들이 중첩되고 변수들의 상호작용에 의해 복잡하고 심지어는 불규칙하게 보인다는 것입니다프랙탈은 그 가운데 중첩의 방식을 이야기하는 것입니다.

프랙탈은 간단한 규칙성이 크기를 달리하면서 반복되는 성질을 말합니다. 예를 들어 고사리 잎은 가장 작은 잎과 그 잎들이 모인 군집체와 크기만 다를 뿐 모양이 닮은 꼴입니다. 나무에서 가장작은 가지가 뻗어있는 구조는 그 가지들이 모여 이루어진 큰 가지와 역시 크기만 다를 뿐 같은 구조입니다. 이런 모습은 폐포나 콩팥의 구조에서도 나타납니다. 이것을 카오스 이론에서는 스케일을 바꾸어도 복잡도(complexity)는 같다고 이야기합니다.

자연이 이런 특성을 갖는 이유를 카오스 학자들은 효율성으로 설명합니다예를 들어 생물이 성장을 해 나갈 때 아주 간단한 모양만으로 복잡한 전체를 만들 수 있기 때문에 유전자에는 간단한 프로그램과 그것을 다른 스케일로 복제해 나가는 기능만 있으면 된다는 것입니다. 또 그렇게 스케일을 줄여가면서 반복을 하면 코흐의 눈송이나 멩거 스펀지에서 보는 것처럼 한정된 공간에 많은 표면적을 갖도록 만들 수 있다는 것입니다. 이는 한정된 공간에서 폐가 산소를 받아들일 수 있는 면적이나 콩팥이 노폐물을 처리할 수 있는 면적을 최대한 넓게 확보할 수 있도록 하지요. 이것은 놀라운 자연의 선택입니다.


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세상에는 필요하지 않은 것이 없습니다.

모든 사물과 세상만사가 연결되어 있습니다.

성공하려면 우선 자기의 분야에 집중하면 됩니다.

결국 그것이 세상과 연길이 되는 것입니다.

성공이란 집중하면서 하나하나에 성취감을 찾아가는 과정입니다.

그러면 바라는 하나하나 모두가 도미노같이 성취됩니다.

살다가 보면 선택의 어려움에 접합니다.

선택의 갈림길에 접어 들면 판단이분법으로 해결하세요.


판단이분법이란 "해야 할 것이냐 하지 말아야 할 것이냐" 입니다.

이것이 바로 "이분"이란 기준입니다. 

밤낮이 있고 물불이 있듯이 모든 선택을 분명한 이분법으로 보세요.

그 기준은 바로 올바른 일인가 아닌가에 달려 있습니다.

어렵게 생각할 필요도 없습니다.

옛 선조들이 음양오행을 익힌 것도 선택의 기준을 삼기 위함 이었습니다.

평소에 눈여겨 볼 것은 이러한 판단의 요소들을 확립하여 놓는 것입니다.

판단이분법은 시간을 줄여주고 복잡한 것을 단순하게 만들어 주는 최상의 지혜입니다.



강화도 출신 미래학자 차원용박사 장녀 결혼식에 참석하면서 요즘 바뀐 결혼식 풍경을 생각해 보았다. 우리집 아이들은 둘다 성당에서 혼사를 치렀는데 그냥 분위기가 경건해서 좋았다. 어제(3/1) 차박사의 장녀 혼사는 최근의 한국 결혼식 풍속을 보여 준 이벤트형 혼사라는 생각이 들었다. 먼저, 주례대신 양가부모를 대신하여 신부아버지(차박사)가 집전하여 신랑신부 서약문 낭독에 이어 당부의 말씀은 짧고 확실했다. 신랑아버지도 소회와 부탁의 말씀이 이어졌다. 그리고 혼례 절차가 기념사진으로 마무리되면서 신랑신부가 연회복으로 갈아입고 하객들을 위하여 노래도 하는 참 아름다운 풍경이었다. 다만 비용이 좀 들어서 부담이겠다는 생각이 든다. 차박사의 장녀 진아양은 연세대 경영학과를 졸업하고 금융기관에 다니고 있고 신랑은 같은과 출신으로 공기업에 근무한다고 한다. 요즘 취직하기 하늘의 별따기라고 하는데 참으로 다행이라는 생각이 든다. 물론 둘 다 공부도 잘 한 재원들이지만.




양재역 엘타워 6층 그레이스홀에서 성황리에 치러진 결혼식 하객들


차원용박사가 지인들에게 나누어준 "바이블 매트릭스"  나의 이름도 언급된 책자- 참 부지런한 분이다.



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