Mindful Executive Functioning: Marching Forth!

SEL fans, it was one year ago that we looked at executive functioning in our March blog post, *right before* a global pandemic changed how we do school and everything else here in Central Texas. In April, after we knew a little bit more about how our work, education, and lives were shifting, we revisited responsible decision making in this new and challenging context. So now, we’ve had 12 months of practicing our executive functioning skills and responsible decision making as humans navigating unprecedented events – what have you learned about yourself and your world? [Thinking about learning, by the way, is called “meta-cognition,” and is an executive functioning skill!]

One aspect of life during a global pandemic and the associated uncertainty is a heightened amount of worry. Studies show that more people have searched for ways to alleviate feelings of worry and anxiety as a direct result of COVID-19, which makes a lot of sense! Just the act of searching for and trying out different methods of noticing our feelings and calming down is a big part of executive functioning, which our Austin ISD SEL department defines this way:

Finding a mindfulness practice that fits into one’s life is a great way to develop these executive functioning skills, as is engaging in play. Playful, unstructured time, just for fun, is an antidote to worry and anxiety for both children and adults. In fact, Brené Brown offers this “dare” to help grown-ups plan for playtime:

Create a play list. Write down three activities you could do for hours on end. Mine are reading, editing photos on my computer and playing Ping-Pong with my family.

Now carve out time on your calendar. Even when I’m busiest, I schedule unstructured time. It’s important to protect playtime the way you protect work, church or PTA meetings.

Play well with others. When my husband and kids made their own play lists, we realized that our usual vacations, which involved sightseeing, weren’t really anyone’s idea of play. So now we go places where we can hike, swim and play cards — things that make us all our most silly, creative and free-spirited selves.


When we intentionally decide with our executive functioning skills to give ourselves space to play and the grace of self-compassion, we deepen our resilience – our capacity to persevere through difficult, uncertain eras of our lives. Linda Graham, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a focused interest in mindfulness and resilience, offers these researched-based practices to return to the wisdom of our bodies to strengthen our resilience.

How are you fostering play, mindfulness, and resilience in your life and/or classroom? How have your executive functioning skills been showing up for you lately? We want to know! Leave us a comment, or tag us on social media @austinisdsel. Keep on Marchin’ on – we are in it together!

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