Working Strategically Means Understanding Yourself

We all need executive function strategies to operate successfully, whether in school or at the office. Before we can develop effective executive function strategies, we must first start with self-understanding (aka metacognition).

Executive Function Overload

In an ideal world, we function efficiently—completing our work calmly, spending quality time with friends and family, and feeling positive about our individual goals as we move to accomplish them. In truth, we often feel inundated by the demands placed upon us by external sources, as well as our own internally-driven pressures. Whether we refer to a child developing executive function skills or an adult managing the demands of daily life, the experience of executive function overload (aka a “clogged funnel”) remains universal. So how can we “unclog” our funnels and strategize to complete work effectively and with efficacy?

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Successful teaching means fostering metacognition in ourselves and in our students. First and foremost, we must start with ourselves and identify our unique strengths and weaknesses. This self-understanding, which we call metacognition in the SMARTS program, enables us to approach tasks and commitments with a more holistic self-view and understanding. Every individual’s unique skill set can be stretched and improved upon, but we must begin by asking questions that help our students develop a more balanced view of who they are as learners.

One of our favorite metacognition activities in SMARTS involves simply starting with two circles. Try this yourself on a piece of paper, in the notes section of your phone, or on a Google doc. Label the first circle for your strengths and the other for your weaknesses. Give yourself time to step away from your prior commitments and make time for this simple, individual reflection. As you engage in this metacognitive “thinking about your thinking,” you can begin to:

  • Understand how your strengths factor into what you do well, and how they can support your weaknesses
  • Explore how your weaknesses manifest in your daily life and brainstorm ideas to resolve or remedy such conflicts

Cultivate Self-Compassion

Lastly, remember to treat yourself with compassion, especially in challenging moments. Every person’s unique characteristics will result in moments of victory as well as setbacks. By nurturing self-awareness, we will be better able to move forward calmly, applying strategies flexibly to the real-life challenges we face.

During times of unprecedented events and with new pressures accumulating each day, remember ultimately to return to a space of self-acceptance and understanding that allows for genuine progress and keeps hope alive. With a deeper self-understanding and renewed personal confidence, you will be prepared to formulate your strategic approach. 

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern