I am a speech language pathologist who specializes in social cognition and executive functioning. I have been to countless Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking conferences as well as Sarah Ward & Kristen Jacobsen’s 360 Thinking Executive Functioning seminars.
Let me say it again… I teach social cognition and executive functioning skills for a living… However, this pandemic has completely upheaved my executive functioning skills and rewired my brain. Anyone else struggling??? Please let me explain…
Prior to the pandemic, I had completely conformed to the pressure of the American standard for heightened productivity in this so-called game of life. I had a solid predictable routine for getting up, getting ready, packing the car, getting my two girls up, ready, and off to daycare on time and be at work by 8am. My ‘future thinking’ and ‘future planning’ skills were on point. I would then work until 6pm, grab the girls from daycare, run home, do baths, put them to bed, unpack bags, repack lunches for the next day, maybe sit on the couch for 15 minutes, go to bed and hit repeat for the next day. I could ‘walk anyone through my day’ with ease. I was able to “future plan” very efficiently and very rarely did I miss a step. Everyday had a game plan. I know there are different perspectives on list making, but I AM a list maker. I write everything down, even adding things to my lists I already completed just to cross them off. I am proud to say I am highly organized. However, this pandemic completely hit the pause button on my scheduled life, and let’s just say, although I can sit back and appreciate it now, I had a pretty hard time adjusting.
During these unimaginable and unpredictable times, much like many women in America, I have needed to shift completely from being a full time working mom, to being a full time stay at home mom, a speech language pathologist, a clinical director, a chef, a housekeeper, and a wife, all of which require a fully different skill set and mental capacities than I was used to. It required far more “future planning” skills as well as a delicate balance in order to stay sane, while also maximizing efficiency to be more present for my girls.
While I know I wasn’t alone in adjusting, I couldn’t help but think metacognitively about some of the reasons this was such a challenge. It gave me a first-hand perspective of what applying these executive functioning skills truly looks like and feels like. What is executive functioning and social cognition and how does this all tie in together? Executive functioning and social cognition are many different skills encompassed into one. They involve impulse control (an ability to think before acting), emotional control (keeping your feelings in check), flexible thinking (adjusting your behavior to unexpected changes), working memory (keeping key information in the mind while also using your mind in other way), self-monitoring (an awareness of how you are doing “in the moment”), planning/prioritizing (setting and meeting goals), task initiation (taking action to get started on tasks), and organization (keeping track of things mentally and physically). Months went by and I was finally feeling competent with all my newly appointed roles. I was able to maximize my efficiency within my roles to not feel too overwhelmed again.
Life seems to have a way of keeping us on our toes. So, here we are again in entering a new phase, adjusting to somewhat of our previous “normal”, but with new expectations and new routines. Even though I find myself having strong executive functioning and social cognitive skills and being able to explicitly teach these skills to my clients, the emotional control has definitely been my biggest challenge throughout all of this. I feel like I have been on an emotional roller coaster this entire time. I know I am not alone in this, which is why I feel it is okay to be vulnerable in admitting this. In society, during these difficult times, we have to remember it is okay to “feel it big”, but we have to “show it small,” which is one of the many tools we use to teach our clients to handle their “big feelings.”
To sum it up, this entire pandemic and the adjustment to a quarantine life has reinforced some important life lessons. Mainly, that we are always required to shift and be flexible in order to be successful in life, whether it be personally or professionally. We expect so much of our ourselves, our own families and our clients and therefore we must constantly remind ourselves to praise successes at home and at work. It is okay to have an appreciation for less structured time. We may be trying to do it all and feel like we’re failing, but we’re not. The goal isn’t to have a schedule that we can’t deviate from, but rather one that keeps us grounded. And in the end, it is perfectly okay to change the plan to meet our goals.
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