7 Critical Tools For Improving Your Life (For When You Need It Most)

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

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If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Maybe there's a new skill you'd like to learn. Something that will help you meet every day with confidence and consistent competence.

For the neurodivergent, this is no idle daydream. Nor is it a pipe dream. 

Self-improvement is always possible. But it takes work, no matter who you are or what challenges you face. 


When I work with people to improve their executive functioning skills, we start with the parts of daily life that are persistently tough for them.

The work suggested here can help anyone, regardless of whether you are neurotypical or neurodivergent.  

Then, find a quiet time to reflect on these questions:​

  • How easily are you distracted from the task at hand? 
  • What helps you maintain focus and stick with your goals?
  • Do you find that you become overwhelmed and shut down more than you would like?
  • What are the performance or productivity issues that challenge you the most?
  • How well can you manage your emotional reactivity or impulse control?

And then we ask: OK, what do we work on first? 


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Here are some tools you can use to start the process of change

1. Practice inhibition — control your response to emotions

Slow things down, pause before responding to anything, expect setbacks, and create a plan for recovering and making amends.


2. Initiation — how to get started

Break things down into smaller components. Use apps to assist you, if you need to.

Reduce perfectionism so you can begin and complete things without pressure. Decrease avoidance by starting with something easy to get rolling.

3. Organization — get yourself together

Lay out steps for completing tasks. Create daily routines. Make spaces for dealing with and storing materials.

4. Prioritization — what comes first?

Do a brain dump to help you distinguish between what’s urgent and important; break that list down into a smaller list of 3 tasks and then identify their components in terms of time and values.


RELATED: There's A New Type Of Multitasking — And It's Especially Bad For Teens & People With ADHD

5. Sustained attention — set attainable goals

Consider possible obstacles to maintaining focus; create a system of reminders to redirect your attention after you have drifted off; set realistic goals based on your actual capabilities and schedule breaks.

6. Working memory — write it down

Write things down where you can find and remember them; use alarms, alerts, and notifications. Take notes during important meetings, classes, or conversations.

If note-taking is difficult for you, brainstorm solutions with your supervisor, professor, or partner that may include recording things or let caring coworkers or friends assist you by taking notes (you may also ask for ADA accommodations). 


7. Metacognition — self-analysis and progress

Ask yourself questions that help you monitor and evaluate your productivity and emotional regulation and measure your progress toward your goals. Questions to start with: “How am I doing?” “What helped me before that I could apply to this situation?”

All human beings have executive functioning skills managed by the prefrontal cortex of our brains.

Executive functioning skills describe the directive capacities of the brain. They work as a command center: connecting, prioritizing, and integrating cognitive functions moment by moment. They are responsible for self-regulation, linking memory to what we see and think about right now, self-awareness and judgment, and actions related to productivity and performance.


People with ADHD have significant executive functioning challenges, with some areas of severity that can be quite impairing.

RELATED: 6 Common-But-Overlooked Symptoms Of ADHD In Adults

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop, facilitator. She has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on the school and family dynamics for more than 30 years.