The Executive Function of Future Thinking: A Real Life Example

I have been focusing a lot lately on the executive function skill of “future thinking” or planning and prioritization, which is required for meeting multi-step goals. A year ago I participated in an annual ritual with my husband and daughter: the 4th of July 5K Family Fun Run. It’s the only organized run that I do.

I came in last.

Yup, the walkers crossed the finish line before I did. I know that someone has to be last, but I wasn’t happy that it was me.

A goal without a plan is just a wishFast forward to January 2019 when I was sitting down with my new planner, writing down goals for the new year. When it came to health goals, I remembered coming in last and made a promise to improve. This year, I  would NOT be last. I decided to “train” for the race, to consciously work to improve my speed. Writing down that goal was the first step. As I teach in my Seeing My Time® Course – “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” so, I made a plan:

1. Continue my weekly habit of “jogging:” 1.5 miles, 2-3 times a week and 3 miles on Sunday.

2. Establish my benchmark. How long did the 5K take me last year?

3. Collect data: I downloaded a running app to track my pace and I bought a truly waterproof cover for my phone because as an Oregonian, I’m often running when it is raining.

4. Work the plan.

Real Life Sets In

To be perfectly honest, I did well with steps 2 & 3. Not so great with steps 1 & 4, faithfully running distances and times each week. You know, life happens and I traveled a lot this spring. And as a person with executive function challenges, consistency and follow-through can be difficult.

I was a little discouraged when my husband pointed out that who comes in last would be determined by the quality of the other runners who showed up. Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. So, I changed my goal from not coming in last to improving my time over last year.

Little by little, watching the numbers on my phone, I increased my speed. I was happy when I saw even seconds worth of improvement each week. I started pushing myself for short sprints. I didn’t beat myself up on days when I hadn’t slept well and my pace slowed dramatically. Some days I settled for just a half mile. At least I was outside moving! Did you know that exercise habits are directly linked to your brain’s executive functioning? It’s true! As a person who is constantly working on strengthening my executive functions, I was determined to stay on top of my goal.

Race Day

As I picked up my race number on this July 4th, I confess to being disheartened as I surveyed “the competition.” They were so much younger than I and looked great in their spandex running outfits. Maybe no matter how much I’d improved my time, I might still come in last? Sigh.

As we began lining up for the start, my husband told me that I should join the fast runners at the front because I would have less distance to run. I probably smirked at him, but put myself in the pack at the front.

I took off with the fast crowd holding my own for about a 100 yards before people started passing me. When I looked down at my phone, I was doing a nine minute mile! I had NEVER done that pace for ANY distance. Eventually my husband and daughter caught up with me and they were amazed that I had been ahead of them for so long. I couldn’t sustain that pace so they went on ahead but I kept at it, not letting my pace slow too much.

When I crossed the finish line I had run a 5K with an average pace of a 12:19 mile and shaved 12 minutes off last year’s time! My family was amazed and so proud of me. I was also very proud of myself. Not bad for someone about to turn 66. And, FYI, I did not come in last place.

So, what goal do you want for yourself? Get out your planner and make a plan. Break it into smaller chunks, proving to yourself that you can do it. You’ll feel great!

Little by little…


Future thinking helps achieve goals

Happy faces at the finish line!


About the Author Marydee Sklar

Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program® and the Set Up Success and Seeing My Time® planners. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.

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