What Contributes To Change In Executive Function Coaching? | Life Skills Advocate


Have you been considering Executive Functioning Coaching?

Decided you, your child, or a student could use a boost in EF skills like planning, organization, and time management?

In our recent “Ultimate Guide to Executive Functioning Coaching” we shared a ton of information about what executive functioning coaching is and how to get started with an EF coach.

Today we’re diving in further to discuss the factors that can make or break an executive functioning coaching relationship. Knowing what contributes to meaningful change up front can help prepare you for what’s ahead in EF coaching—and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that might get in the way.

What is Executive Functioning Coaching?

Before we get started with factors for success, let’s review what executive functioning coaching is and why it’s important.

Executive functioning coaching helps to establish positive behaviors and habits around executive functioning skills like organization, time management, task initiation, attentional control, and self-monitoring.

For individuals that struggle with EF skills, executive functioning coaching can help:

  • Identify barriers and current challenges.
  • Set goals and expectations of success.
  • Teach replacement strategies and behaviors for what’s not working.
  • Hold individuals accountable for progress.
  • Recognize and celebrate progress.
  • Put supports in place when things don’t go as planned.

With coaching, individuals can expect to achieve not only better performance at home, work, and school, but also can expect better relationships with themselves and others.

Why is Executive Functioning Coaching Important?

Since we all use executive functioning skills to navigate the world, there’s always work that can be done to boost our skills. Coaching can help individuals pinpoint areas where we may lose focus or areas that cause us extra stress. Research shows EF coaching can also help:

  • Improve time management – giving us more free time for things we enjoy, which in turn can reduce stress and increase overall happiness.
  • Increase self-control – providing us with more meaningful relationships, fewer social stressors, and more positive thoughts about ourselves and others.
  • Boost motivation – With stronger abilities to break larger projects and assignments into smaller, more manageable pieces, tasks seem easier and more manageable.

Working with a coach can also improve your ability to focus, while lessening your daily anxiety and stress levels. There’s less chaos. Less forgetting and letting others down. Better chances of success.

The Factors that Contribute to Meaningful Change in Executive Functioning Coaching

That being said, there are some key things we know support the coaching relationship. From a long history of working with clients and published evidence on successful coaching, we know about these 8 key factors that contribute to change in executive functioning coaching.

As you move through this list, try to answer the questions about the coaching relationship:

Openness toward Executive Functioning Coaching

Forcing someone into a coaching relationship rarely leads to success. Starting with an openness towards the coaching process and an openness to accepting change builds the strongest foundation for meeting goals. Ask yourself:

  • Am I here because of someone else or for my own reasons?
  • Do I want to get better at ____?
  • Am I ready to work with a coach and open to what the coach might have to offer?
  • Do I think change can happen right now or are there other things I need to address before change can happen?

Openness to Strengths and Weaknesses

Along with being open to the executive coaching relationship, we also need to be open to examining our strengths and weaknesses. Taking an honest inventory of our areas of biggest need can be uncomfortable, but a necessary part of getting started in EF coaching. On the flip side, some individuals may struggle with physical or mental health concerns that make it difficult or painful to see and build upon strengths clearly. Tackling these issues first can improve the outcomes of coaching. Ask yourself:

  • Do I consider my own strengths? What am I good at?
  • Am I willing to examine my weaknesses and blind spots?
  • Do I have coping strategies in place to look at my strengths and weaknesses?
  • If a coach challenges me to dig deeper, am I willing to do so?

Recognizing Limiting Beliefs

There are thousands of thoughts buzzing through our brains every hour. One of the things we focus on with coaching clients is the idea that not all thoughts are helpful or true. That’s especially true of limiting beliefs–or thoughts about what we are and are not capable of.

Limiting beliefs are thoughts like “My parents weren’t great with money, so that’s why I overspend.” or “I’m too disorganized to ever get that promotion.” Not only are they rarely true, but they’re also a barrier to succeeding with goals. Ask yourself:

  • Do I recognize the limitations I place on myself?
  • How do I evaluate if a thought is helpful or true?
  • Am I willing to work with a coach to eliminate my limiting beliefs?

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Along with openness to coaching and a willingness to recognize limiting beliefs, individuals who find the most success in EF coaching tend to adopt a growth mindset–or the belief that a person’s skills and abilities can grow and improve with practice. This is in direct contrast to a fixed mindset–or holding the belief (and subsequent behaviors) that “you get what you get” and real change isn’t possible. Ask yourself these questions to evaluate the private thoughts you have about behavior change:

  • Am I ready to make changes in my environment to promote change?
  • Do I place barriers or make decisions that move toward or away from goals?
  • How do I know if my thoughts are helpful or harmful in meeting my goals?

Goal Clarification

As noted above, goals are a big part of executive functioning coaching. Setting goals and narrowing the focus of goals is a key factor in the success of EF coaching. Coming in with too broad of goals or wanting to ‘work on everything’ will likely create frustration and impede progress. Instead, we ask coaching clients these types of questions before beginning:

  • What are my biggest priorities right now?
  • What is the one area that I need the most in help right now?
  • Am I feeling overwhelmed about the work to be done? Do I have the skills to prioritize my biggest goals?

For a sample goal-setting activity that you might encounter in EF coaching, check out our free downloadable .pdf SMART goal setting exercise. It’s from The Real-Life Executive Functioning Workbook and a good way to start clarifying your EF goals.

Social Support

Many times the recommendations made in EF coaching sessions involve arranging the environment, daily routines, or social activities to promote new habits and behaviors. That can be a point of contention if it also requires friends, family members, and loved ones to also make changes. While it’s not impossible to succeed in EF coaching without the social support of others, it can definitely be a boost if you have a strong network around you that are supportive of your coaching goals. Ask yourself:

  • Who else in my life can help support my EF goals?
  • What barriers or potential obstacles do I see with friends and family?
  • What skills and resources do I have that can help me have difficult conversations about why EF skills are an important priority right now?
  • If my network of support is small, where else can I find supportive individuals to help?

Adequate Time Resources

Boosting executive functioning skills takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time. A good EF coach will help you evaluate up-front if it’s a good time to start tackling a particular coaching goal–or if there are things that need to come off your plate first. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have time to dedicate to coaching sessions right now?
  • Am I able to block time every week to attend sessions and to work on assignments?
  • Where are potential barriers to dedicating the time?
  • Are there things I can ask friends or family members to help with to free up time?

Tackling Setbacks and Changing Course

Not all coaching sessions are linear or an upward path to success. Expect to experience setbacks and encounter situations where you may need to change course to meet a goal. Just as it’s important to be open to change, be open to failures, mistakes, and barriers without giving up on the goal. Ask yourself:

  • Do I understand there may be risks in executive functioning coaching?
  • Am I aware that I’m likely to encounter setbacks, make mistakes, or need to change course to meet a goal?
  • What tools and resources do I have when bumps in the road happen? Who can I rely on in my social support network if I encounter roadblocks?

More Information on Executive Functioning Coaching

Would you like more information on executive functioning and EF coaching? Check out these guides from Life Skills Advocate or schedule a free discovery session with one of our EF coaches to learn more.

Further Reading


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