The Good Life #9

Unleash your inner executive. Five skills you need to develop.

Gary Gilberg
4 min readFeb 13, 2021
Image by 18121281 by Pixabay

Executive functioning is an umbrella term used by psychologists to describe a wide range of cognitive processes and behaviors that originate in the prefrontal cortex of our brain. There are five essential skills that originate in this region of the brain. They include: 1) focus and attention 2) planning and organization 3) emotional regulation 4) cognitive flexibility and 5) impulse control. These abilities enhance teamwork, leadership, decision making, critical thinking, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

“What does the prefrontal cortex do? Basically, it makes you do the harder thing.” Robert M. Sapolsky

Executive skills are highly valued by American society, both in economic, social and personal terms. The average CEO salary in America is $148,709. In a longitudinal study children with higher executive functioning skills had fewer criminal convictions, better physical health, more academic success and higher incomes 32 years later. Executive functioning correlates with higher life satisfaction. These five skills separate the successful expert from the stumbling novice. Research shows these skills are not fixed, but can be cultivated throughout your lifetime. These talents can be increased through self-awareness, self-control and deliberate practice.

To improve your focus and attention:

A) Shut out distractions. Turn off the phone.

B) Get off autopilot. Be aware when your mind is wandering.

C) Don’t multitask. Your brain switches between tasks sequentially. It doesn’t process in parallel.

D) Practice. Attention can be improved through repetition.

E) Stay curious. Charles Darwin could spend an entire day watching turtles on the Galapagos Island by asking himself questions about them.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” Voltaire

To increase your organizational skills:

A) Be proactive, make lists, write down schedules and develop systems to make repetitive tasks more efficient.

B) Delegate, streamline or eliminate tasks whenever possible.

C) Prioritize the items on your TO DO list as: 1) Important and urgent 2) Important and less urgent 3) Less important but urgent 4) Less important and less urgent.

“A good system shortens the road to the goal.” Orison Swett Marden

Cognitive flexibility can be increased by taking a new perspective. To cultivate your ability to reframe a complex problem consider the following strategies:

A) Seek the opportunity in the crisis.

B) Pursue new challenges and experiences.

C) Read books, seek expert advice and study scientific research on the issues.

D) Talk to people with different perspectives.

E) Look at a conflict from the other person’s point of view. Put yourself in their head and try not to be judgmental.

“I always thought that a person’s intelligence is directly related to the number of conflicting points of view he or she can entertain simultaneously on the same topic,” Abigail Adams

To control impulses: Disconnect, detach and delay.

A) Disconnect from the trigger to reduce your reaction. If it’s a toxic coworker, stay away.

B) Detach yourself emotionally from the situation. Imagine yourself floating over the drama watching down from the clouds.

C) Delay your response. Sleep on it or talk to a trusted friend before you respond. Letting your impulse dissipate will allow your prefrontal cortex to reply with reason not emotion.

Although Elon Musk is a visionary CEO, his impulse control leaves room for improvement as evidenced by the $20,000,000 fine he received from the Securities and Exchange commission for his Twitter announcement he was taking Tesla private via a massive buyout in the fall of 2018.

“You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.” Dr. Bob Chope

To improve emotional regulation, when your emotions start to hijack your rational thinking:

A) Breathe. Take a deep breath to calm your vagus nerve and trigger your body’s relaxation response.

B) Acknowledge your feelings.

C) Accept your feelings as a natural response to a stressful situation.

D) Be mindful of your how you react to your initial emotional response. (Do you get upset about getting upset?)

E) Focus outward, on the task at hand, not inward on emotions that get in the way.

F) Exercise before you act out. Take a walk or go for a run to lower your stress level. (Exercise lowers emotional reactivity.)

G) Give yourself time to process your emotions (Emotions dissipate with time.) In a year will this problem be less significant?

H) Develop your capacity to feel a negative emotion and not act on it.

A samurai challenged a Zen master to explain heaven and hell. The monk said, “You’re nothing but a lout — I can’t waste my time with you.” The samurai flew into a rage, pulled out his sword and screamed, “I could kill you for your impertinence.” “That,” the monk calmly said, “is hell.” Startled to see the truth in what the Zen master pointed out, that fury had overwhelmed his reason, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword and bowed, thanking the monk for his insight.“ And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

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Gary Gilberg

Gary Gilberg is a certified coach, writer and ski bum, not necessarily in that order. Sign up for his free newsletters at