Imagine a day when you have a long to-do list of greater and lesser priorities. You choose one task to start on, but are distracted by the background noise of a lively conversation nearby. You succeed in mentally blocking out the chatter just as your phone rings or someone knocks on your door.
“Executive function” is the important set of skills that enable us to choose and balance priorities, work toward future goals, multitask, regulate our emotional reactions and adjust plans as we go. Executive functioning is what scientists often call our brain’s “air traffic control system,” balancing incoming information and outgoing communication and actions.