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Executive Functioning Skills, Part One: A Lesson in Master Baking

Tired of eating droll, processed desserts from the leftover desserts at the grocery store? Do you dream of baking your own, delicious Strawberry Swirl Ritz Pound Cakes, Chocolate Orange Battenberg Cakes, or, for the truly ambitious, a Lemon & Orange Bob Marley? Sounds like you want to be a Master Baker! Easier said than done, of course: becoming a Master Baker requires countless hours in the kitchen and total mastery of a wide variety of baked goods. Impossible? Not here at ESM!

Recently, Connections In Mind Co-Founder Victoria Bagnall spoke with ESM Mentors about executive functioning skills. Here’s the basics: executive functions are cognitive processes that are responsible for the effective, timely execution of tasks. They help us with meeting deadlines, regulating emotions organization, cognitive flexibility, and other such skills. We often hear about students struggling with task management, procrastination, and organization, and understanding these skills is critical to correcting those issues. Executive function skills are not fixed, unimprovable “character traits”: they are, well, skills, meaning that they can be improved with diligent and focused practice. That said, improving these skills is not easy, and in the beginning, it can often feel like you’re adding more work to your already full “plate”. But improving these skills will help you become much more efficient and productive with your time in the long run.

First up is the “Rule of 60”: it takes at least 60 repetitions of a task, on average, for it to become a habit. That’s a lot, yes, but anyone who’s binge-watched a TV show knows that 60 episodes can absolutely fly by, and, once you’re there, well, now you’ve got a habit. (Definitely not an addiction!) Point being, things will get easier and more automatic as you get closer to 60 repetitions. Don’t give up!

The next step is WOOP: Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, Plan.

Wish: This is just your goal: becoming a Master Baker!

Outcome: Visualizing the impact of achieving your goal. As a Master Baker, you will be able to bake a wide variety of delicious goods on demand. Craving Chocolate Orange Cake? Rose Petal Shortbread Cookies? Pear Walnut Bread Pudding? They’ll all be yours.

Obstacles: This step entails visualizing the potential obstacles you may face ahead of time. To bake, you’ll need an oven, various cooking items, and of course ingredients, so make sure all that is already sorted long before you begin baking! You’ll also need time, so make sure that you have free time built into your schedule. The point is to anticipate these obstacles and “plan” around them.

Plan: Make your plan! The key here is to set what are called “SMART” goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound. So, instead of, “Bake all the goodies on the Great British Baking Show”, try “Bake two or three items from the Great British Baking Show per week for three weeks, all from different categories.”

The second goal is specific in that it names a specific number of episodes, measurable in that it is very easy to track (and most importantly, to identify whether you “succeeded”), achievable and realistic (1-3 goods a week seems pretty doable!), and time-bound (three weeks). Keeping the goal a range (2-4 episodes) allows you flexibility if one week is more or less busy than the others.

Then, at the end of those three weeks, you assess your progress and set another SMART goal. If everything went well and you have more time available, maybe you up your goal to 3-5 goods; if not, maybe just 1-2, or maybe you decide you’re overwhelmed and need a break (perfectly normal!). Keep iterating, and once you complete about 60 repetitions, it will become more automatic, and you’re that much closer to Master Baker! Congratulations, and celebrate with a Summer Pudding Alaska!

And, hey, if these skills can help you in more, “practical” areas -- say, improving your SAT/ACT scores or GPA, well, let’s just say that would be the cherry on top of your Pineapple Upside Down Cake!