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Executive Functions 101: Strengthening inhibition

We are on to executive function number two: inhibition.


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Inhibition is the ability to stop and think before we act.


Inhibition similar to self-awareness, is one of the key executive functions, which the other executive functions build off of. Without inhibition, we are unable to show much self-control. We act based on our knee-jerk impulses and this can be extremely problematic.


What Does Poor Inhibition Look Like?


  • Impatience. Everyone experiences difficulty waiting sometimes. Waiting for test results from an important medical appointment. Waiting in traffic when you are already late for work. However, impatience caused by poor inhibition is not always appropriate for the situation. It's flipping out on your cashier because the line was too long at the grocery store. It's snapping at your kids because they are taking too long to put on their shoes (don't worry, we've all been there). It's big reactions for slight inconveniences.

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  • Impulsive decision-making. This one probably had the biggest impact on me. Research and educated decision-making were a made-up concept for me. What do you mean, people actually research a college before applying? People actually look at their calendars and availability before committing to something new? Not I, sir... not I. You can see impulsive decision-making a lot in finances. It's making big purchases without consulting your spouse. It's getting in way over your head because you didn't look at your non-existent budget before committing to another big monthly expense like a new truck. Things like sticking to the plan (if you're lucky enough to have one) and completing tasks fall under this impulsive decision-making umbrella.

  • Speaking before thinking (coming across as rude or mean). This particular trait can put a lot of strain on the people in our lives who experience our brash style of communication. We don't seem to have the filters between our thoughts and what we say and sometimes, this can be pretty hurtful.

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  • Difficulty stopping what you're doing - This was one of the first things I noticed that pushed me to get assessed for ADHD. I remember standing at my sink doing dishes. One of my kids started screaming behind me and it took real effort to stop doing the dishes to turn around and see what was going on. Granted it wasn't an "I'm hurt" scream, but it was still a big red flag for me that it wasn't a reflex to turn around and check-in. Transitions are hard for ADHD'rs, regardless of what the activities themselves are. moving on and starting something new feels like scaling a mountain for some of us.


How Can We Improve Inhibition?


When you are looking at tools and strategies to improve inhibition, the idea is that practice makes perfect. Every time you do something to support your inhibition, you are strengthening the self-control networks in the brain. Ideally, with enough time and practice, these things will start to come more naturally to you.


Medication

Stimumlant medication in particular has been shown to improve inhibition. This is because stimulants (like Ritalin) increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex. Which houses skills like self-control. Increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in those areas leads to improved concentration and reduced impulsiveness.


CBT

CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy allows you to work with a therapist who provides personalized techniques to learn how to pause before acting.


Mindfulness and Meditation


A person meditating in the woods

Meditating just 10-15 minutes per day has been found to reduce impulsiveness and improve attention.

Meditation can look like a lot of things. It can be sitting in silence, it can be a quiet walk through the woods. The idea is to be present and in the moment, without distraction.


Removing Distractions

Decluttering and removing distractions from your workspace can help keep you on track. I tend to need my phone in another room when I am writing. It is so easy to fall into a TikTok doom scroll trap. It's unlikely that I will get up and go get my phone to sidequest on social media. Pay attention to what triggers your distractibility and do what you can to remove them.


Lifestyle Changes


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I will never stop recommending sleep, nutrition, and movement when it comes to ADHD management. These three things make such a big impact on overall quality of life. A lack of sleep can make all of your ADHD symptoms worse, especially inhibition. Eating more vegetables, fruits, complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats provides the nutrients needed for self-regulation, while processed foods tend to exacerbate issues. And regular exercise can improve focus, cognition, and impulse control (at least 30 minutes per day) similar to how ADHD medications work (though the effects don't last as long).



ADHD coaches can help you create a personalized plan to increase your inhibition.

Grab a free session here!



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