22. Executive Function and Making it Real.Jan 31, 2023
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The skills for the DOING part is sometimes known as ‘executive function’ skills.
Such as: task switching, organising, prioritising, flexible thinking, working memory, multi-tasking, impulse control, keeping track of what you are doing, starting and finishing tasks, managing time...
And while these may not be our strengths, difficulty with these skills are also NOT reflective of bad character (“lazy” “selfish” etc).
But, they can be where many of us get stuck.
Because traditional approached to DOING (executing on) your intentions, don’t fit.
To do lists… don’t work.
Self-admonishment… doesn’t work and leads to burnout.
Task switching a million times a day…. doesn’t work.
Sticking to a schedule with lots of transitions and bits and emails… does’t work.
Excitement… works… but only lasts as long as the dopamine of the thrill of the new thing.
So how to get unstuck around the DOING when typical routes to doing, don’t work?
This is a question I’m intending to help people answer, as The SOLA System program is going through a refresh. And in this episode, I share a bit of my thinking about why.
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Unedited transcript: (accurate transcript to be uploaded soon).
There are 5 ingredients to get to a self fulfilled life as a late-identified autistic person
WHAT + WHY
(is the first 3 steps the sola system addresses, but broken down into 3 more for each, so 9 planets)
Then COMMUNITY (aka your sensory siblings, or accepting supportive group where you don’t have to pretend to be something you are not in order to make sense to people There is ONE more ingredient; SUPPORT to execute on your WHAT + WHY
In The SOLA System we’ve just had a workshop called Make It Real. This is the very first foray into a new level of stuff I’m going to be adding in soon around creating actual tangible support for executive function stuff.
I’m REALLY excited about it, and am in the strategising around what is the best way to build it in.
It’s funny I asked Chat GPT and it came up with roughly the same answer just in very different language and not in language i would like and the style. I’m not all over the internet so I can’t say “write a podcast in the style of me” ha ha. I’m not sure I’d want to. I do think at some point this will become an AI personal assistant and people will train theirs in bespoke ways like a PA. In fact google already developed an AI personal assistant and never released it. I’m curious as to why, but I imagine it would take so much data for each person, but also imagine a world where our AI PAs are all talking to each other, there are so many fractal expanding implications of all this tech.
For me, technology is neutral, it’s the intention and action you do with it that makes it good or bad. Technology is just how you organise something to create agency. A beehive is technology. An ant colony is technology. A record player is technology.
People who think with uncommon organisational structures and who perceive different data need differently structured thinking and knowledge for it to work as useful technology.
Anyway, tangent over.
Back to the point, which is how to execute, how to action - your intentions. That support system to actually Make It Real is a part of the solution.
And this is also part of this next level of the SOLA System.
Every year it undergoes an evolution of it’s own and thats because I get more nuanced and more clear, because of another year of coaching and more and more people and so I’m getting more and more specific and more and more faster results and changes for who I work with. SO I update videos, and give it a new look and new clarity and so on.
My goal is to be the best coach in the world for autistic creative people, ideas people, visionaries, innovators, people with unique perspectives, (and if you’re like - hmm I’m not sure thats me - if you listen to this podcast and it resonates, you are someone who has unique thought whether you see it or not) so my goal is to create the most life transformative container and support system for catering to the differences that are labelled autistic. Because I get this feeling that I’m onto something, and I have the evidence of people getting results with it that they describe as life changing. Makes me cry and humbled sometimes, because I really believe this is coming through me, like in the beginning I was kicking and screaming and terrified to begin this. But I was also like I need to surrender because my own theory about how to do life is not it. So I opened myself to being guided, and I don’t have a fixed belief system around it, but I experience source connection - the deeper the self connection, the louder th eosurce connection. anyway.
I think right now, there is no coaching container with the nuances I have. No coaching certification that is tailored just for autistic-status brains the way I break it down.
I’m inventing the models and frameworks. But also - the vision, my why is exactly that. It’s there’s more to this then reasonable adjustments to the status quo. Nah, the possibilities for how to human now, are ridiculous, because of this hyper-connected internet tool. So you have way more choices then any of the generations 20, 30, 50 years before. Those choices are mind boggling. Navigating decisions is part of this. Knowing how to even begin to access that is the whole journey.
And I haven’t felt ready to add this element of supporting the getting it done until now. Now that I’ve cracked the code on my own executing of my own intentions - like I am 3 years into doing this work, and not one bit burned out and LOVING my life and my work, and it’s working for me, right, so I’ve done it. There is always more to grow into, but this baseline of feeling this good working - it’s really landing in me how much I didn’t have this.
But also I wanted to share out loud some thoughts on this and the list of executive function stuff.
You can have all these big dreams, but your belief is likely going to be low because of past experiences that show you that you don’t get things done. Or in the “right” way or on the right timeline.
Or not at the level or in the way you want to. Not on your terms and not sustainably without exhaustion or burnout. Or not with consistency, because what’s driving you is either self admonishment or lack, or excitement, none of which energies you for the long run.
I remember sitting on my sofa as a freelancer and so often being in freeze. Because I just didn’t know what to do and I also didn’t know how to begin to even start on my big dreams. And the MORE I thought about them the more overwhelming they seemed.
And so learning how to get stuff done, intentionally, that is chosen, and gets to the intended end point. But not do it through over-work, pushing my own limits, force, self-admonishment… or excitement which doesn’t last. So neither of those approaches last, right, they don’t lead to long term sustained work, they lead to burnout.
How to translate the big picture vision -> into what am I doing today, and while not having strong belief that I could do it,
This has been a personal odyssey. It’s been the thing between where I was and where I wanted to be, that has been a personal project for years and years to try and get right.
In my 20s I was watching tony robbins videos online. Now I don’t know what you think of him, but at the time that was my only source. Theres a framework he has called RPM, Results Purpose massive action. That was really helpful because it gave me an ingredient I still use now which is knowing WHY. SO much of the entire self development field contains his thinking. SO Knowing what the point is to the activity or task BEYOND the activity itself. Beyond a checklist or to do list. Beyond “I should” or “I have to” or “I’m supposed to” and into a bigger purpose beyond myself. That took me out of self-admonishment as a way to try and get myself to do things, but also out of short term excitability for whatever new thing felt full of hope until I’d got to the hard bit where I found out I wasn’t good at it yet.
So that’s also in The SOLA System - is knowing WHY. What is the point? What is the meaning I am giving to this that creates connection for me - me to me, because I’ve sensed that this is a future I want to live, me to others because there is a benefit to other people or planet. Or a big reason for why this idea or goal or intention
So really identifying WHY creates connection to others and to inner self that is a kind of energy flow.
Your WHY doesn’t have to be like oh i’m here to change the world and make it a better place and a positive pull. Your WHY can be your pain. Pain is an amazing driver, and if that’s your driver its a good one because its still you in self connection. It’s you listening to the pain and then acting to solve it. And when I say pain, I don’t mean chronic pain or physical pain - unless that makes sense for you. I mean emotional pain of being left out or disrespected or bullied, or pain of your current life that is so far from what you would choose. Let that be the driver if thats where you are. Not if its about trying to change other people or make them different. But if it’s taking responsibility for your life and the decision to change it even though it wasn’t your fault. That.
In Vicktor Frankel’s book Man’s Search for Meaning he finds meaning in even the most horrific unthinkable circumstances and credits that meaning with his own survival. Highly recommend the book. That’s also a tip i got from tony robbins years ago and I think where Tony Robbins credits some of his emphasis on knowing why - the meaning of what you are doing being a motivator.
So for me, how I would say it, is that knowing WHY - having a bigger point to it, and directing your focus there, creating and practicing neural pathways around that, creates this deep source of flow, and energy and alignment and focus that can sustain you and that provides a much better source of action taking then pushing yourself or being mean to yourself, or fear of what other people will think, or excitement of new things that doesn’t last. That WHY might be driven by current pain. Or by an idea of what could be. Or both. It doesn’t matter. As long as your WHY is intentional.
But there’s more to this, because when I’d get to Tony Robbins’ massive action part, it was about writing essentially a massive to do list, and so I would find that list of actions COMPLETELY overwhelming and I would also use it to try to engineer self-belief I didn’t have, by making it completely unrealistic. Like ‘yeh I’m going to be someone I’m not to get this done’.
So there is more to this than purpose-driven, efficient, focused task oriented action taking.
And that more has been talked about as ‘executive function deficits’ for autistic people.
Executive function describes a collection of mental processes that are like the management department of the brain, the people in suits in you brain who are in charge and overseeing and making sure and checking off. SO things like:
prioritising flexible thinking
keeping track of what you are doing
starting and finishing tasks
SO these skills are key for planning, getting shit done, achieving goals.
Now these are skills you can learn, the brain develops these. But can be made harder by high stress environments. Like flexible thinking - you can see how being around people who keep undermining your own experiences and perceptions and world view would make you hold tight and feel the need to argue for it and be on the defensive and protective of it much more than finding use for agility of perspective taking. Like being around people and designs that are inflexible and unaccommodating to your thinking = what is that going to teach you?
Or, if you are someone who thinks in deep dives and works best with a singularity of focus, then prioritising and holding lots of different subjects of focus at once, and trying to distinguish which to focus on, it’s just not how you work best.
So if you have a different brain nervous system sensory perception body mind, that the WAY you structure and organise approaching these HAS to be different.
It can seem that if we struggle with these, that we are lazy, bad at life, and so maybe you’ve had character traits assigned to you because these types of things have been hard, right, like: your selfish or messy or irresponsible or yeh lazy or don’t care.
But it’s none of that, right. It’s that literally your brain is wired so that the way you best get things done is different, and might actually be enabled by specific structures and help and supports to get things done.
That’s not a personal or character deficiency, but a brain difference.
It’s not something to feel bad about or not like yourself for. Nah it’s who you are, and the side benefits of being who you are are that you are also someone who comes up with original thought, who can see another perspective, who is creative, inventive, and can have a depth of perception and depth of knowledge in specific subjects that creates enormous value…
But even if you aren’t those things and you also find executive function stuff hard, that’s nothing to be ashamed about or think less of yourself for. Nah it’s all part of the beautiful being that you are here to be, and means that YOU require another route to agency.
SO far The SOLA System has been about
WHO YOU ARE (undoing beliefs and conditioning and unlearning who you are not, th emisunderstandings etc)
WHAT YOU WANT (which provides the container for self development, and draws up all the mindset barriers to work on)
HOW to make it happen your way (so shifting the structures in how you live and work and relate to more suit you, so you are less in overwhelm and over-adaptation)
But this fourth piece, I think is a game changer. Which is a support system - hello system - a support system to make the bigger self-initiated stuff happen.
The mindset stuff is 80% of it. I’m very big on that, because so much of your relationship to yourself to your own word, to your own actions can transform. I’m big on that work.
But the remaining 20% is having help with the doing.
So doing the inner work on the WHO, WHAT, HOW is 80%. Then the final 20% is support system.
Independence is the goal. People who think differently are under-resourced in terms of cognitive extension - extending your ability to think a thing and then realise a thing in the external world. That agency might for you involve very different means, tools, structures and people reliance. And that’s okay. It can seem like it’s not because of the unavailability of those resources compared to other people. Thats not on you. Thats not your lack.
Thats not your deficit.
The solution is not to try and overcome how your brain works.
The solution is also not to give up on your goals and dreams.
With things like;
keeping track of what you are doing
starting and finishing tasks
Which is first of all the WHY piece is key. Without that, there is trouble because we get so attuned to the sensory experience of a task that if we think thats the point we lose perspective. But also - demand avoidance. Like when our habituated response to external expectation comes from those expectations being completely and predominantly mis-matched for our own readiness and adjustment time, then all external expectations start to represent demands, including internally set goals that no one asked us to do.
So the WHY piece allows for detachment from the HOW, and flexibility with the dates and connection to intention, and the how is just the best guess. So it’s about creating a new relationship with the doing, that starts with the why and not the other way around.
ANd then, what none of this acknowledges is that we are systems-thinkers. We don’t think in tiny silos of experience, but in connections between all the parts. So executing a linear To Do list is impossible. Setting up systems and creating patterns for executing is far more effective.
SO there are strategies for that.
And yes, working memory for many of us is low. So working memory is - you can remember the start fo a long sentence by the time you get to the end. So for me, holding lot sof linear details in mind without the bigger picture and map, is hard. But give me the map and the system and the context and I’m the opposite. If you give me that I can find the needle in the haystack.
Task switching - well yes this is hard because we learn and process through immersion in an entire space or experience or subject of focus or task - that has congruence within it - see previous podcast on sensory congruency.
So we get absorbed, and we get immersed in things and all of the extra neural connectivity gets satisfied and plugged in,
and we also get emotionally invested in it sometimes, because it’s become our whole world while we are inside it, and side note - a way to avoid other things that are more emotionally difficult (there’s that inner work aspect)
so then coming out of that and adjusting and redirecting all of the focus and attention, and collecting up of our emotional self — it takes longer and requires more energy for us.
But hello, who said we have to work through switching tasks all day long?
Just because the school time table switched not only subject but often classroom, doesn’t mean you have to live that way.
Our ability to stay with a task and forget to eat and forget who we are and what we are doing is second to none. That’s got advantages. But it also just is. Right. So instead of see it as a burden and a deficit and something to fight, let’s just love on it and give us what we need.
So then it’s about structuring it that way. SO one example, my days of the week each has a theme. I’m doing ONE thing that day. Not one task, but one area of focus. Such as one day is podcasting. I’m doing nothing else.
One day is coaching. Nothing else. One day is program building out. You get the idea. For others, the dipping in and out and not getting sucked in works for you. Finding out your way is key.
For others, it’s the nervous system regulation stuff. Like when my youngest was ill and napping in bed, I am so focused. So some of you have a cat or pet and it provides that. Body doubling does something similar right.
It’s the settling of nervous system to move through a thing to completion.
I believe this is a field in its infancy.
There are apps and stuff, but really the apps is a tool that facilitates externalised thought. But there’s so much more to it that I don’t know if an app can do it. Like for some people its I need to talk out all the areas and all the thoughts and have help to separate it all out.
So The SOLA System is also a lab, it’s an incubator for finding new ways of supporting all this. And because humans helping humans and having interdependent structures for the doing, the making it real, doesn’t need to be something we try and overcome. But instead something we foreground and facilitate.
And so that’s something I’m working on, across The SOLA System and also 1:1 coaching.
The things we create when our WHO is accurate to our potential, and our actual inner knowing, and not just who we had to be to over-adapt and who other people thought we were. When our WHAT is clear - we know what we want and we are dreaming according to potential and not probability of our past. When the HOW is self-defined and you have the inner self esteem to back yourself and assert your needs and boundaries, and the courage to create those structures, and then the SYSTEM is there to help you realise it all?!?!?!
So I hope this has inspired you to look beyond the idea that executive function deficits is a full stop end of story and instead as just the beginning.
Alright, talk soon, love you, bye.