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Executive Functions 101: Increasing Self-Awareness

The first of seven executive functions we are covering in this series is "self-awareness".



Self-awareness is the ability to monitor and change your own behavior as needed. It is one of the first skills we develop as children and can have major consequences if we lack it. Self-awareness is one skill we need to successfully execute other executive functions. If we are unable to see our own behavior, how can we even really see that there is a problem? How can we plan for the future, or understand the past? How can we set goals, create game plans, or problem-solve if we are unable to really see if how we are behaving is working for us?


How a lack of self-awareness impacts us


What are some of the ways we see a lack of self-awareness come up for neurodivergent adults?


  1. Difficulty in recognizing symptoms: Without self-awareness, people can struggle to identify their own ADHD symptoms. This can cause problems in work and at home, as they may not see their symptoms (such as impulsivity or forgetfulness) as a problem.

  2. Hesitancy in accepting and seeking treatment: Self-awareness plays a huge role in accepting and seeking treatment for ADHD. Individuals who lack self-awareness may resist or downplay the importance of seeking professional help or trying strategies to manage their symptoms. This could impact their ability to access the support and resources they need to manage their ADHD effectively.

  3. Trouble with time management and organization: A lack of self-awareness can prevent ADHD'rs from recognizing their difficulty in these areas. They may not understand why they have trouble keeping schedules, meeting deadlines, or staying organized, which only continues the cycle and causes problems professionally and personally.

  4. Strained relationships: Without an understanding of how ADHD symptoms affect their interactions and behavior, ADHD'rs may struggle to recognize the strain it puts on their relationships. This can cause others to view their behavior as intentionally rude or hurtful.

  5. Lowered self-confidence: ADHD'rs may blame themselves for difficulties they experience due to their symptoms, without realizing that these struggles are a result of a neurodevelopmental disorder. This can lead to a negative self-perception, lower self-worth, and decreased confidence in their abilities.

How Can We Improve Our Self-Awareness


Here is a list of 7 things we can start doing today to improve our self-awareness. The key is practice and consistency here. We are rewiring our brains when we start to practice these skills. That is going to take time and effort.


Mindfulness and Meditation



Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help develop self-awareness by allowing us to observe our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without judgment. This practice can enhance self-reflection and awareness of one's internal experiences. My go-to's are guided mediations and walks in the woods. Anything that brings you fully into the present and at one with the environment is meditative.


Journaling



Regularly writing in a journal can promote your self-awareness by providing a space to reflect on thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It allows people to gain insights about themselves, identify patterns, and track their progress over time. I'm a big fan of Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages", a journaling practice where you write three pages a day, stream of consciousness style. Write what pops into your head, don't edit, don't control, just write.


Seeking feedback



Actively seeking feedback from trusted loved ones can provide valuable perspectives on how our behavior impacts others. This feedback helps broaden our self-awareness and highlights blind spots we may not have noticed on our own. It is important to go into this with the right mindset though. Leave judgment and defensiveness at the door. Recognize that this feedback is meant to help you. This may not be the best course of action for ADHD'rs with high levels of rejection sensitivity dysphoria.


Self-reflection exercises



Engaging in self-reflection exercises, such as asking ourselves thought-provoking questions, can deepen our self-awareness. Questions like "What are my strengths and weaknesses?" or "What values are most important to me?" help us gain clarity about ourselves and our priorities.


Emotional intelligence development


Building emotional intelligence involves recognizing and understanding our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Skills like identifying emotions, regulating emotional responses, and empathizing with others can significantly enhance self-awareness. There are plenty of DIY exercises as well as professionals out there that can help you develop your emotional intelligence.


Regular self-check-ins


Setting aside dedicated time for self-check-ins throughout the day can help maintain self-awareness. Pause and reflect on how you are feeling, what thoughts are lingering, and how your actions align with your goals and values. I like the Pomodoro Technique for this purpose. 5-minute breaks every 30 minutes allow me to check in with myself and see how I'm doing. Read more here.


Seeking professional support


Working with a therapist, counselor, or coach can be immensely valuable in enhancing self-awareness. These professionals provide an objective perspective, offer guidance, and help individuals uncover underlying patterns or beliefs that may be hindering self-awareness.


Grab a free session with our national board certified coach here




It's important to remember that self-awareness is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and practice. By implementing these practical skills, you can gradually develop a deeper understanding of yourself, your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.



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