ADHD Teens: What the EF! Executive Functions Skill: Goal-Directed Persistence

Executive functions (EF) skills are skills required to help perform or accomplish everyday life tasks. These skills are controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain just behind the forehead. The frontal lobes are the last areas of the brain to fully develop. Executive functions skills begin to develop in infancy and continue to mature into early adulthood.

Goal-directed persistence is an executive functions skill. It is the capacity or drive to follow through to the completion of a goal and not to be put off by other demands or competing interests. (Dawson, Peg, and Richard Guare. Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd. The Guilford Press, 2010. Print.)

You may not realize that you have used goal-directed persistence many times. You used it when playing with toys (i.e., LEGOs®), learning to make your bed, brushing your teeth, playing a sport, finishing a long-term project, etc. Remember when you were learning to tie your shoes? You wanted to tie your shoes all by yourself. They were steps to be learned. The steps had to be performed in a certain order. You willingly practiced over and over. You persisted until that one special day it all came together and you tied your shoes all by yourself!

Even after you were first able to tie your shoes by yourself, once in a while frustration would set in if tying your shoes didn’t always happen on the first try. In spite of this frustration you stuck with the task that you completed it. You able to rely on your memory and self talk to get to the process of successfully tying your shoes.

When a teen has difficulties with goal-directed persistence, it is hard for them to:

  • complete a homework assignment
  • finish a chore
  • read a novel
  • start a task
  • stick with a task that is boring (to the teen)
  • get back to a task if they get interrupted (by themselves or others)
  • delay gratification (i.e., save money over a certain period of time for something specific)

We can help our teens strengthen their executive functions skill of goal-directed persistence by using the following strategy, PERSIST:

Purpose of goal

Establish steps to goal

Reward yourself as you accomplish steps along the way

Schedule time to work on steps to goal in planner

Increase effort when a step is challenging

Seek help

Ta Da! Goal achieved!

Repeat process or go ahead to next challenge that needs to be addressed and help the ADHD teen in your life PERSIST.