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Ep. 131: George McCloskey, Ph.D. - Self-Regulate to Self-Realize

November 19, 2020 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 131
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 131: George McCloskey, Ph.D. - Self-Regulate to Self-Realize
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Full PreFrontal
Ep. 131: George McCloskey, Ph.D. - Self-Regulate to Self-Realize
Nov 19, 2020 Season 1 Episode 131
Sucheta Kamath

In her book Mirror: The History, author Sabine Melchoir-Bonnet tracks the curious journey of a tiny reflective glass once thought to be the most fascinating invention which over time eventually has gotten demoted to the status of an ordinary gimmick. The mirror that captures the presentation of self in everyday life comes through with its promise of unveiling fascinating yet terrifying personal information. However, there is nothing equivalent to a mirror that successfully reflects back the inner workings of the self. Until that invention becomes a reality, the best tool we have is Executive Function; the capacity to self-reflect.

On this episode, author, researcher, neuropsychologist, Diplomate of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology and  professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. George McCloskey discusses self-regulation, Executive Function, and ways to become self-reliant and the distinctions between learning difficulties and producing difficulties.


About George McCloskey, Ph.D.
George McCloskey, Ph.D. is a professor and Director of School Psychology Research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and holds Diplomate status with the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology. Dr. McCloskey has amassed 40 years of experience in test development, teaching, research, and assessment and intervention work with a wide range of clients and has developed a comprehensive model of executive functions that can be used to guide assessment and intervention.  He frequently presents at international, national, and state conferences and consults with a number of school districts and private schools nationwide on issues related to improving students’ executive functions. 

Dr. McCloskey is the lead author of the books Assessment and Intervention for Executive Function Difficulties and Essentials of Executive Functions Assessment.  He also is the author of the McCloskey Executive Functions Scales (MEFS) Teacher (2016) and Parent (2019) Forms that have been standardized and published with Schoolhouse Educational Services.  Dr. McCloskey is co-author with his wife, Laurie McCloskey of the children’s book titled The Day Frankie Left His Frontal Lobes at Home (in Press). 

Website:

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.


Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

In her book Mirror: The History, author Sabine Melchoir-Bonnet tracks the curious journey of a tiny reflective glass once thought to be the most fascinating invention which over time eventually has gotten demoted to the status of an ordinary gimmick. The mirror that captures the presentation of self in everyday life comes through with its promise of unveiling fascinating yet terrifying personal information. However, there is nothing equivalent to a mirror that successfully reflects back the inner workings of the self. Until that invention becomes a reality, the best tool we have is Executive Function; the capacity to self-reflect.

On this episode, author, researcher, neuropsychologist, Diplomate of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology and  professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. George McCloskey discusses self-regulation, Executive Function, and ways to become self-reliant and the distinctions between learning difficulties and producing difficulties.


About George McCloskey, Ph.D.
George McCloskey, Ph.D. is a professor and Director of School Psychology Research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and holds Diplomate status with the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology. Dr. McCloskey has amassed 40 years of experience in test development, teaching, research, and assessment and intervention work with a wide range of clients and has developed a comprehensive model of executive functions that can be used to guide assessment and intervention.  He frequently presents at international, national, and state conferences and consults with a number of school districts and private schools nationwide on issues related to improving students’ executive functions. 

Dr. McCloskey is the lead author of the books Assessment and Intervention for Executive Function Difficulties and Essentials of Executive Functions Assessment.  He also is the author of the McCloskey Executive Functions Scales (MEFS) Teacher (2016) and Parent (2019) Forms that have been standardized and published with Schoolhouse Educational Services.  Dr. McCloskey is co-author with his wife, Laurie McCloskey of the children’s book titled The Day Frankie Left His Frontal Lobes at Home (in Press). 

Website:

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.


Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal, where we discuss executive functions, self awareness, self management, and we figured out ways so that people can become wonderful, self regulated people, people who have what it takes to achieve their goals and find fulfillment because they know how they think, how they act, how they behave. And they have the tools within them to change themselves. And it's going to be a great discussion today. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath, I have a dear friend and a colleague who is a guru of executive function. And he you can wake him up in the middle of the night and ask him any question. And he can ask, answer that very successfully, because he lives this wonderful topic. And so before I get him on here, I wanted to kind of just set the stage for all of you. Whenever I think about executive function, I find out I like to imagine that I'm on on a plane and somebody sits next to you and says, What do you do for a living, and you should be in one sentence, be able to tell what you do. So I wish in that way, I was a plumber, because I don't need to tell what plumber does. But when I tell people, I work with executive function that itself leads to like, at least 10 minutes of conversation, which is very annoying, because I wish so this podcast is really making an effort to make this as a commonplace statement or language. So people don't need an explanation of what it is. And second thing I'll say about executive function is one only recognizes the need and value of executive function in absence of it. And so absence or lack of executive function is much to talk about then when they're present. So when you show up somewhere on time, when you actually turn something in on time, or you actually read people's mind when you understand what was the implicit in a given condition, you are using great executive function. So I am wishing you all that you activate your executive function as you listen to this particular interview, because you're up for a treat. So it's my great pleasure to introduce George McCloskey. He is a professor and director of school of school psychology research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and he holds diplomat status with the American Academy of pediatric neuropsychology. Dr. McCloskey has amassed 40 years of experience in test development, teaching, research, and assessment and intervention work, which is my favorite part of his work. Because he doesn't leave us hanging he gives us some solutions, and a wide range of clients and has developed comprehensive model of executive function that can be used to guide assessment and intervention. He frequently presents to packed audiences, rooms packed with audiences who are eager to learn from him. And he is the lead author of the book books assessment and intervention of executive function difficulties, and essentials of executive function assessment. He has also developed. Of course, this is getting a little nerdy on my part, so bear with me, but he has a scale called MEFS, which is the McClosekey Executive Function Scale, very, very useful a teacher and a parent forms that allows you to gauge a student's level of competence by asking questions of teachers, parents and students themselves. So welcome to the podcast, George, how are you?

George McCloskey: I thank you very much. I'm very good. Very busy as as you are also, it's just a very different than very stressful time for a lot of people with with the COVID situation and just all the uncertainty of getting back into schools and, and figuring out how to do all this on you know, effectively and, and do it in a safe and healthy way. It's been a challenge.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, I'm sorry to hear that. And I share your sentiment, but I'm glad that a lot of students have access to you. And a lot of parents have your guidance. So you're using some people's lives for sure. So as we talk about executive function, let me ask you about your own executive function. What kind of student were you and what kind of self regulation you had as a child? Were you attuned with your strengths and weaknesses when you're growing up? Very good. Yeah,

George McCloskey: Well I think, let's say I had, I had a very profile of self-regulation, abilities and skills. So there were some things that I was doing very well, perhaps better than most of my peers. And some things I was really very far behind my peers in. So self-regulation for me...

Sucheta Kamath: What kind of examples can you give us? 

George McCloskey: Oh, well, I certainly, I think, but here's the thing, I think the majority of it was, is tied to motivation. And, you know, in my model, as it goes beyond self regulation, so we're talking about when you become self determined and self, and self realized, and, and beyond that, and I think that that was the the shift for me, you know, between 10 and 12, I was became very self determined, there were some things going on in my home, that I that I realized it related to mental health issues for, you know, in the family and, and from that point on, it became very clear to me that there was need for my, my capacity for self determination to be in place, and to guide a lot of things. And so from that point on, the things that motivated me were certainly of great interest in self regulation in those situations was not a problem in situations where I was being told to do things or else. And, you know, and where I felt like I had a loss of self determination, created a lot of dissonance within me, and certainly reduced my ability to self regulate very effectively, because it was not motivated. And so in those situations, my ability to stay on task, and to complete assignments, and completing, I could find anything to do besides what I was supposed to be doing at the time. So distractibility was a major problem for me. When it came to things that other people wanted me to do, when it came to things that I wanted to do, there was there was pretty much no stopping me. And of course, many people say, well, that's an ADHD profile. And I'm, and I appreciate that there are certainly some aspects of that, that were within my own profile when I was growing up. But as I said, there were also other aspects related to the way I treated other individuals and how I related that were very different. And I think this, just that mixed profile was always very confusing to me, but it's why it's why I developed the ideas, and then test the ideas that I have now today, because I think, in our culture, today, we over pathologize, a lot. And we use and we tend to our whole system of mental health, is based on the idea that you cannot receive services, and be reimbursed those services unless you have a label. And that label has to be something that's wrong with you. And I think that's where we start right there, from the beginning, thinking that anyone who needs some assistance or need some help, or some ideas of how to improve themselves has there must be something wrong with them. And I don't blame them by that at all. I think that there are certainly people that do have pathologies, and when when something interferes with your life, to the extent that you know the value of your life, and what you're doing is compromised by things that are happening to you, the quality of life is affected greatly, then I think we start talking about disorders, and we talk about treating those. But prior to that, there's just many, many people that have difficulties in many different ways. And a pattern of strengths and weaknesses, everyone you know, they're just things they do well, things they struggle with. And the question is, what is it that you're struggling with? And what can we do to help you figure out how to do that better? And how can we help you take advantage of those strengths you have, and use them sometimes to compensate for those weaknesses when necessary. So this has always been my idea that there's, there's this mix, it's never black or white, you are this or not, you probably have some of those traits. And you'd like to fix those or change those. That's great. And if those The only things that are wrong, that's okay, you don't have to fit the whole profile, right? I only have four of the seven, you know, characteristic. So maybe I'm not that, well. It's really not an issue of are you aren't you it's what are you having trouble with? And what do you want to change? And so that's always been my perspective. And I, from a very young age, I had a perspective of the idea of wanting to change myself, to be the person I wanted to be when I wasn't the person I wanted to be. I was very frustrated, you know, and so I was very self defeated. And so it was always this constant. How do you how do you fix that up? How do you change it?

Sucheta Kamath: So I think one part that really reverberates with me about young George is you had incredible insight. You may not have had the skills, but you kind of identified and recognize things that you could do better and figuring them out could be a gradual process. So I really appreciate that. The reason I asked that question is because I think sometimes people are so deeply committed to a whatever they're studying and researching my guess particularly they're highly specialized. And if they're asked to remember their younger versions, you know, we tend to forget to our younger versions, but we're dealing with and I'm not really interested in kind of humanizing some of the barriers that young generation has a younger people have as they we recognize in them there is a better version somewhere hidden there. But what would be the reason that they might work. So let's set the stage for this conversation about executive function. What is it? How do you define it? And it's how does this relate to agency are one sense of control they have over their life? And how does this connect with self efficacy, their ability to feel successful? By the ways in which you do things? Are they all related? How do you define that?

George McCloskey: Um, that's Yeah, and that's a very, has a very broad question. And there are lots of things involved there. And I think, sometimes that's the, you know, I mentioned, motivation is my, within my own context, in my own situation, and, and that has always been a basis of trying to look at the world, and understand why people are doing what they do, and how they do it. And the recognition of where there's great motivation, and where there's a lack of it, and how that affects and impacts on and the more I understood about neuro psychology, the more understood about functioning in the brain. And, and the, the role of motivation, we always have these, you know, personality, motivation, courses, and learning and motivation and motivation was always this very, you know, ephemeral thing that we always talked about, but never really had much in the way of an understanding or definition. And very often, I think, because executive functions, this idea of executive functions, is the one about the some people, you know, have very simple idea of a CEO, the brain, the idea that there's this control center within the brain that directs all of your perceptions, feelings, thoughts and actions. And, and I think that's an oversimplification, I do think that within the frontal lobes, we do have a supervisory system, that that has many different components, and they work together. And so it's not one single unitary location within your frontal lobe. But there's lots of elements within your frontal lobe that are responsible for helping you take control of your perceptions, feelings, thoughts and actions. And I began to realize that those those circuits, that circuitry within the frontal lobe is is not the circuitry of motivation. That's the circuitry of motivation is different. And that includes many subcortical areas of the brain, that also that there's connection that were very strong connection between those frontal lobe executive functions, how to self regulate every day, and how to make sure you're doing what you you know, what you should be doing in any given time, well, why is this you should be doing Well, that depends on your motivation, whether you're listening to what someone else is telling you to do, because it's going to be good for you. Or whether you listen to yourself, because you know, that's what you want to do, either of those is tied to your motivation very much. Yeah. And if you have, if you're lacking in motivation, then you simply listen to individuals, because you fear the consequences of not listening to them. Or there's so much of it, you know, there's a negative consequence involved, and you'd really rather not pay it. And of course, that becomes a motivation. So the idea is like, how do you take this thing called motivation, which is this, you know, seeking positive things, or avoiding negative things, and creating a becoming that source for you to get the things that you want, and to direct yourself effectively to get those things. In order to do that there has to be a connection between motivation and the frontal lobe, and there's lots of lots of connections between the motivational center and executive capacities to the extent that when you are motivated to do something, or you do, you're doing something you like, you are at your best you will, you will self regulate, use executive functions at your best when you're highly motivated. When you're not motivated. It's almost for some people, it's almost impossible to access those self regulation capacities and get things done. Because it's just not, you know, we don't have that special push through the motivation center. So motivation kind of energizes this whole system of frontal lobe function. And once you have that energy, and you're energized, and it's surprising what some individuals are able to accomplish with a self regulation, so in models of change within our field, that idea that do you want to change, you know, or you say these things are a problem for you, but do you really want to change? And do you really want to create a new, you know, this new, you know, how you want to function? And if that's the if that's the case, then you will be motivated. But if you say you want to change, but you're really not, you're not gonna have the motivation. So you can start a therapeutic approach, intervention, but you just won't follow through with it, because it's really you really haven't committed to the change process yet. And so, I love the work of Prochaska and DiClemente and Norcross, the Changing for Good, you know, model of change six, six stages of change. And you're the first are pre contemplation, contemplation, and then preparation for change. And then the fourth stage is change. And so there are three stages before you even get to the point of changing and it just takes brains a while before they really wake up to the idea that you really do have to be committed from motivation perspective to see that change. And so for me with my clients, my major job is helping them see where they are at motivationally speaking get to that point where they need to be motivationally. And then we can start talking about those strategies we can use to begin that change process, you know, to alter the way you self regulate. And so for me, that's, you know, that's that therapeutic approach. But that self regulation piece is how do you perceive, feel, think and act every day? How do you guide your thoughts, your perceptions, your feelings, your actions, so you're doing at any given point in time you're doing the things that are going to be beneficial to you. And that will enable you to to accomplish the things you want to accomplish, and not be at odds with yourself. You know, some people you go home, and you say, Well, why I say that? How do I do that? You know, why did I think about this. And so there are all these things that we, after the fact kind of reflect on sometimes and, and just weren't there in the moment, and able to do that. And so there's this other component, executive control I talked about was Self Realization, you know, the more aware of that, that that need to, to align your self regulation with your self determined motives. And the awareness of how far on or off of that you are, enables you to become more self regulated. So within individuals from the age of 10, and 14, and up these these three aspects of self determination, and self realization and self regulation, they'll have to work together within the brain. And that's the big challenge of adolescence from age 10 to 25. is awakening and developing this capacity for self determination, goal setting, long term planning, the capacity to be aware of who you are, to realize your strengths and weaknesses to self reflect on and to be aware of others and how you impact them, and how they impact you if you can develop that, you know,

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, pause here for a second. So let me get this straight. So one thing I really appreciate you, not many people frame it this way, even though they specialize talking about executive function, that this motivational system, the subcortical systems, the systems, in the deeper crevices of the brain, govern these, what gets you activated, what gets you going? And then there's the direction, where are you going, what and do you have a better way of going there, and they need to talk to each other, they need to be in sync with each other. And then you're talking about this, the self reflection piece, which comes up at the end, When, when, as you're and of course, the success comes from you watching what you're doing and monitor what you're doing as you're doing it, which is of course maturation factor, or good self reflection tied back into redirecting action. So these three pieces together to me what sounds like you're describing brings self efficacy, like to become good at doing something well, and continuously keeping track if something went well, or did not go well. is a marriage between these three things? Correct?

George McCloskey: Oh, yeah. Yeah, very myself, and informs your belief system, right, your structure of your beliefs about yourself. You believe you're good. Yeah. So

Sucheta Kamath: I love I would love for you to then talk about this. Because one of the things and I don't know if you find this frustrating or not, but there's been a great conversation about mindsets. And suddenly, mindsets are brought in, as if you as somebody growing up with things. And then you talk to them about having a growth mindset. Well, growth mindset is not external, or it's not a lecture based learning. It's not somebody says, George have a good growth mindset. Right?

George McCloskey: Well, that's a good point.

Sucheta Kamath: Because it has to it requires some level of experimentation with your approach, and results, and then keep evaluating that. So can you talk a little bit about I don't know if I'm, if this is a best suited question or not, but I would love for you to talk about that relationship to self efficacy to me, because greater than executive function is equipping people with the knowledge of self that allows them to regulate self. Right?

George McCloskey: Yeah, it does. And, and, and yes, and that self advocacy piece that said, you know, pulling together that self determination, Self Realization, but then that that aspect of once you are there, and you begin to realize these things, these are things I want, and these are things I don't do so well, and things I do well, and this, how I impact others, and how they impact me, once you have that sense. You know, and you're there. You need to build that the capacity for saying, if it's a see where there are situations in which things you may be doing are not going to help you get the things that you want. And this becomes very frustrating for some people are highly motivated, they have these goals, they lofty goals, and they know what they want to do. But they just cannot, they can't self regulate throughout the day, to do the things they need to do to accomplish those things. And so that very much ties in that idea of a growth mindset, you know, fixed mindset would be well, you would only accomplish those things if you have the ability to accomplish them. And so if you look at yourself and say, Well, I don't have, I don't have certain abilities, even though I have these goals, and these goals require those abilities, I guess I can't have that goal because I don't have those abilities. And that'd be a fixed mindset. But the but the belief system here is that growth mindset, which is, well, if that's what I need to accomplish that, then I have to reevaluate that goal, do I want it or don't I, if I do, then how do I develop those capacities that I don't have. So that's that growth mindset of whatever it is that you want, you can develop and grow to get that to achieve that. But it's not gonna be just a matter of wishing that it happens, it's you have to have some sort of a plan, an idea, a belief structure, that's going to guide you in doing what you need to do, to make sure that you develop those skills and abilities that are necessary for you to accomplish those goals. And it's not a matter of what you, I hope you have that because if you if you don't, you'll never do that. And, of course, in sports, we see lots of examples of individuals with lots and lots of talents, who really never accomplished much in their sports area. Because they're really the motivation for them to do that. It's not very, really there, or they can't self regulate to accomplish it. But there are other individuals who are motivated to perform well in sports don't have the innate abilities that other other athletes do have. But the fact that they practice so much, and that they use what they have, and they compensate for weaknesses, or develop as much as they can, those areas that are weaker, so they get stronger. And you see that growth mindset. And you see them now they accomplish those goals that they set for themselves, because they're willing to put the work the time energy, you know, and it's three things to me, I used to say time, energy and effort, but really, it's it's intention, time and energy. And if you if you have the intention, and you're willing to put the energy into it, and be patient with the amount of time it takes, there is very little that you can't accomplish. And I've seen some individuals make some very dramatic change in their lives, because of their ability to see that and to and to maintain that motivation and to work very, very hard to accomplish and achieve what they want to accomplish.

Sucheta Kamath: So can we talk a little bit about this energy, this capacity to put forth the mental effort is this same as capacity to handle the cognitive load is the same as one's capacity to sustain mental sustained attention and intention to follow through with complexity of things? How does this translate into having that mental energy? Because sometimes I see students kind of want one effect, you know, like, they start off well. They continue, they feel exhaustion, and then they don't have this refueling process, or they don't recognize that the certain tasks are extremely energy consuming. So how do you understand that? Or how would you explain that? with the clients that you work with? Like, what role does this energy play?

George McCloskey: Yeah, it's, um, that is often at the center of a lot of things. Because if for some individuals, if they can't see the results within a week or two, I think it very discouraged. And they'll, they'll throw themselves into it, and they'll do do and they'll they'll try to catch up, you know, and in a week's time, and I often have to help them develop that patience is necessary to realize, on Ellen Langer has a model, she calls the Reverse Zeno's Paradox, which is the idea that, you know, Zeno's paradox said, If you fire an arrow to target, and and you took a stop action photograph of that, that arrow approaching the target, you could take the distance between the arrow on the target and you could have it, no matter how close the arrow gets the target, you can always have that distance to infinity. So the arrow never reaches the target, you know, rationally thinking that way. That's the paradox. But she says, well, instead of instead of having things to infinity, think of intervention with a brain that needs to develop and grow as as the reverse of that, which is doubling the effect, every time you do something that you need to do the way you need to do it. It is making connections within your brain. And those neurons are beginning to understand you want us to fire together and work together. And so that forms an identical an identity, that identity is the idea of neurons that fire together, wire together. And now you use them once they go, Okay, that's once you do it again. And they go, Oh, that's the same neuron pattern again and again. And the more times you do it, the brain begins to realize that you want us to fire together, it's more efficient at firing that but every time you do it, it's an infinitesimally small effect. And now you do it again, you've doubled the effect, you do it again, you've doubled how long you have to keep doubling the effect before you can actually see a real change in the world. So you're changing your brain long before you change your behavior. And this is what individuals who don't see results I'm doing but I'm not getting results. You're doing it and you are getting results, you're just not seeing that result yet. But the thing you need to do is to continue to do it. And then interestingly, with xenos, reverse paradox, the idea that, once you are able to see it is now exponential as when you start doubling something, you can see, it becomes exponential. And it be it's like an explosion of growth. And it seems to be overnight. And people say, Wow, she's doing that all the time. Now, she was never doing that nice does all the time. Is that is that hormones, or what? Because now she now lessen that to say, No, we've been working on this for five years. So that's not overnight. That's the result of five years of work. And now we're seeing the payoff. But if you didn't put the five years in, we wouldn't have seen that explosion of growth. So we often we often expect to see that explosion of growth, without putting in the necessary time to build the substrate within those neural substrates in the brain, that are going to function effectively to get you where you want to be. And it's a lot of hard work. And sometimes you get nothing back, you just have to, you know, have the belief that if I continue to do this, and do it the way I'm supposed to do it, at some point, it's going to be extremely easy for me to do. And that's really that that and now once you've got to that point, see now you've you've automated that process, and you can move on to something else that you need to take, you know, take care of. But it's really that that idea that things won't just become easy. And if it's easy for you get that idea. If it's not easy, then you know, I'm not going to take it on. And if it's easy for me, and I'm really good at it. That's great. But is there something that you want to do? That's not easy for you to do? Then can you can you put the time, intention, energy and effort into that to become really good at you know, that intention, energy and time, are you willing to put that in, and if you are, then you can, you can accomplish that. But in interventions, it's very discouraging, initially for a number of individuals, because they will do they'll do well, for a week, they're motivated that motivation is there. Sometimes it's hard to maintain that motivation over time, and there's just these lapses. And you will there will be days, you're not there. And so when I talk about that growth of, of executive capacities, it's sort of this up and down thing, some days are there some days you're not, and we're just trying to get gradually over time more on than off, you'll still be off at times, but you'll be off fewer times than used to be. And there'll be a point where there'll be, you'll be on so many, so often, you won't even notice those few times when you're not. But for right now, you're off a lot enough. But if we don't track that, so progress monitoring, I found becomes very critical. In almost every intervention that I do, if you're not keeping track of whether you're changing or not, it's so easy to get, you know, a subjective opinions are not going to do the job, you need to have some data that you're tracking to see that that up and down growth. But that upward slope, even though there's some days when you're up and down, you know, the line looks like this, but the slope is upward. And you know, there'll be days when you won't be there days, weeks, maybe even months. But you know, overall, you are making progress toward the goal. And that's the that's the part that I have to keep encouraging my clients to stay with. And so I do a lot of progress monitoring and show it to them, or have them do their own progress monitoring so they can see the change.

Sucheta Kamath: So George, you thank you for giving us that the broader picture of helping people develop the framework of success and kind of knowing how to even gauge success or progress, as you mentioned happening. Before we go into more depth of intervention. Can we backtrack a little bit? How does executive function problem? How do executive function problems show up in everyday classroom for a student or even everyday life at home? How do you break that down? You have a very thorough system of assessing or not assessing, but but kind of framing understanding of executive function. So what would you say to our listeners? What's a broad strokes on understanding executive function and dysfunction? as it shows up?

George McCloskey: Yeah, I think it's kind of layered. I think, from early preschool, ages to three, attention issues are probably the most easily noticeable. If they persist, they would, they're the ones you want to address first. So just that ability to focus attention on a particular topic or idea or person and environment, and the ability to sustain attention for a bigger amount of time, but just also the the ability to activate your sensory systems and use them and then focus attention sustain it, and when you're in preschool and in kindergarten, I guess knows very quickly if you can't do that, so that that's one of the first you know, executive capacities that that people are aware of that, that they want individuals to use and appreciate with little children, they're not so self motivated, they're really responding to us as adults in the environment. And so we're trying to shape a lot of that. And so attention is what we want from from individuals to help them grow and develop their frontal lobes. And so that's the first thing. And then we're looking for engagement, we're looking for them to initiate activities, we're looking for to inhibit impulsive, responding, you know, don't do things we tell you not to do them. Or we're looking for you to be able to stop and interrupt ongoing activity, pause briefly and get back to what you were doing. Shift be flexible. These are things getting those around four, or five, six, starting in that preschool, and kindergarten age range, you get to elementary school, people are expecting you to be able to check your work for errors to kind of modulate your feelings, right you can be, you can be silly, but not too silly. You can get upset but not too upset. So we're looking for that kind of ability. When we get into elementary school, to correct mistakes, find your mistakes, correct them balance, have a sense of balance, right? Don't tell jokes all the time. It is time to be serious time be funny. And then we're looking at, you know, moving into memory system, can you manage your memory system, there'll be a test on Friday, you need to study for what to study me, what does a test mean? So just all that ability to figure out how to store information and retrieve it effectively, is an aspect of executive control, because we all have memory, our memory system, but do we know how to manage it. And that's that executive control of memory. And so that kicks in late Elementary, you get to middle school, people are asking you to do all that be responsible for your actions, right? Know how to do all those things. But now also take on the idea of identifying problems gauging difficulty estimating time, and figuring out you know how the best way to get things done. And then by the time you're in high school, we expect to be able to plan and organize, make the decisions and prioritize. And so all these are executive control aspects, these are all aspects of follow function, you can see how, as you go through school, at certain points, if you don't keep up with the executive control development that they're asking for, you can fall behind, you can easily fall behind. And then we just have to catch up. There's lots of individuals that the shift from from preschool to kindergarten, kindergarten to elementary, elementary and middle school, middle to high school, the shift points start to show up where there are these weaknesses, Oh, you don't have that set of skills that we and none of these are taught. All these things we're talking about are aspects of executive control that we just expect individuals to develop on their own, with a few cues from us, and maybe a little bit of modeling. But it's never really it's sort of like a hidden curriculum. But the expectation is here that you are developing these things. And if you're not, you're probably not going to get good grades, you're probably not going to succeed in school. And so we see the problems, but we don't identify the source, as executively related A lot of times,

Sucheta Kamath: if I can quote you, I love you, you have written that executive functions are not the mental processes we use to perceive, feel, think and act, but rather, are the processes that direct or cue the engagement and use of the mental processes that we use to perceive feel and think and act. I think you just summarized that beautifully.

George McCloskey: And to expand on that it's the first part is knowing how do you know how to pay attention? Which means Can you can you cue the neural networks in your brain that responds for attention when you need attention? And that and so is Do you know how to get that attention out of your brain? Now, do you know when to do that? So knowing how and knowing when or a little to two different aspects of executive control? And I call knowing knowing how being the skill? Do you have the skill? Can you pay attention? Meaning? Can you cue the parts of your brain that are responsible for paying attention? Do you know how to get yourself to pay attention? Now, do you know when to get yourself to pay attention? That's an executive function. And so functions are really about do you know when to do all these things? And then skill is Do you know how to do them. And if you don't know how to do them, we step back teach you how to do them. But now we have that other piece, which is we need to help you understand the conditions that you should identify and recognize so you know when to do them. And so that how and when are very important. That's, that's a source of executive control. I let all the rest of the workers in the brain that have to do it, right.

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, because I love this because it's so one is do you know, and then second is are you doing what you know? So, you know, like, when you need to do it? You're supposed to do it. So Oh, playground loud voice loud noise and library. Quiet noise, quiet voice. And if you flip it, then it's a lack of executive control. Library.

George McCloskey: Yeah, it just It baffles teachers and parents too, because they'll say, hey, I've seen him do it. He could do it. He wanted to but The issue is they know how they just aren't picking up on the cues for when. And we have to help them understand when to use those abilities they have appropriately. Because you say you've seen them do it before. But also there's that motivation thing, right? And when did you see them? Do it right video games, they could pay attention for hours, math homework, 15 seconds? No, that's not an intention problem. And that's not executive function problem it's a motivation problem.

Sucheta Kamath: So you another thing that you do really well, George, is you make a distinction between learning difficulties and producing difficulties. So first, what are they? And how are they different? Because that certainly influences strategy instruction, isn't it?

George McCloskey: Yeah, it does. And so I think of the I think of the executive functions and skills as the supervisory system of the brain, it tells the, the how supervisors skill supervisors tell the workers what to do. Pay attention, that requires certain certain parts of your brain to pay attention, they have to be activated. So you, so your brain, your The, the whole circuit within the follow, knows the parts of the brain needed for paying attention and activates them. And then the when tells you when when you should do that, and that's executive control system. But those workers that are being activated, they need to be able to do their job. And so sometimes we find that they're within certain brains, there are certain areas within the brain that are not as developed as they should be underdeveloped, you know, or perhaps damaged. And so now, we're not able to do certain things. And that's a learning disability, learning disabilities really have to do with the workers in the brain parts of the brain that may be compromised and make it difficult for you to do something. If you can't hear somewhere sound units, it gets very difficult for you to understand how to decode words, and you'll probably be a very poor reader. And so those workers create a learning disability, if you have a phonological deficit, certain areas within left hemisphere don't process sub words, sound details, in words the way they should, that's a worker problem, we fixed up the worker. And now you can do that, with the executive control system is about producing. And so production is that, that even if you know how to do things, will you know when to do them. And that lack of knowing when especially knowing when so but also knowing how, so you have these workers available to you at your disposal, you just don't know how to how to get them activated as first. And they don't know when to get them activated. So producing disabilities are about individuals, who seemed to have a lot of ability, but aren't able to produce on command in school, or at home. And so it's that lack of production, that we see why he's so smart, he's so capable, but he's failing everything is and then you get you sit down the individual and realize they're highly motivated, but they're not able to pull it off. And you're in this, this is a producing disability or pressing difficulty, you really don't know how to get your brain to do what needs to do or don't know when to get it to do what it knows how to do. So now the intervention becomes very much you know, taking on helping you envision with the producing difficulties that they have. And the learning difficulties are about weak or weak workers, workers who aren't able to very do their job very well. Intellectual Disability reasoning areas, the brain are not a compromised language impairment, you know, the language centers of the brain are not functioning effectively. Now, if we can get in there and we can we can strengthen those workers, we are remediating a learning disability. But once that's done, or as being accomplished, there's still that issue of producing. And then you can have an individual with both problems, both learning and producing difficulties, and they're the hardest to teach. And the fascinating part about school is we don't identify on the basis of learning disabilities, we refer on the basis of producing difficulties, because we can see the lack of production, but we can't see the lack of learning in the brain. And so the lack of production gets you referred early. And we identify an orange disability, we say, Oh, that's why you aren't producing Not really, there's a learning disability here we found. But if we also don't address that producing difficulty, we're going to teach this brain how to strengthen the workers, but you still might not see what you want from that brain efficiently and effectively, because it may still not know how to get it out of itself, when you're not around. And so, inventions, we see that up and down, you know, they make progress. So they do code sometimes. And sometimes they don't. And you have to remind them, you know, to use their the skills they have. And that means where they're being their frontal lobe all the time.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, I really love this distinction because I think it also kind of outlines as you mentioned intervention, but it also allows you to help the student know why there are certain different approaches to way of becoming successful in the academic or non academic endeavors. Allow me to indulge myself I use a building analogy, I say there is an architect who creates the design, and then there's a project manager or the construction manager and then there are bricklayers. So the bricklayers are the skills so you know if if The bricklayers show up. But there is no no plan. There's no architect who has never designed the entire plan. Even the construction manager cannot do it. But once the plan is laid out, and a lot of times I find that teachers, educators, or coaches or parents become the architect, or the, the or construction managers or the bricklayers, but they have to really understand this kid needs to do it all. And and so that's how you hand over the skill set from eventually a person who becomes the architect of their own navigation of life are going to also know that sometimes I have to change my head from a bricklayer to an architect and architect back to the bricklayer.

George McCloskey: Yeah, mostly put, and it's a great analogy. And I think one thing, it also emphasized, as you mentioned, is that while parents and teachers can become the architect, eventually, the goal of all this is for you to become the architect for the child themselves to become the architect and the manager and have this in the work. So and that's that intervention continuum of moving from external control, where other people assist you, through strategies for bridging strategies to the point where you become self regulated, where you're actually running all those components. And so shifting from, from being externally controlled to internally self regulated, we have to find those strategies to go from there. You know, we can't just say to you that, you know, you take it on, it's yours now, right, we have to have some form of instructional strategy that bridges where it takes it from them, you know, meet us telling them externally controlling to them, seeing what we're doing, see how we're doing it, taking on those strategies for themselves, learning how to use them, getting good at them receiving feedback, and then beginning to use them so well, that we just fade our feedback and step out of the picture and other internally self regulated. So it's that gradual shift from becoming from having someone else be the architect to you becoming the architect, but it's something you have to learn how to do. And so it's something that lots of individuals need a lot of guidance with.

Sucheta Kamath: And what's so amazing to me, George is how miraculously, it's present in so many children, as they, you know, become adolescents and adults. So when executive functions do show up it's beautiful,

George McCloskey: yeah, yeah, they do. Don't they? Which is what we never really talked about it, Yeah, if everybody could do couldn't do it, we'd be talking about this all the time. But it seems like your peers are doing it, why aren't you? Yeah, and, you know, even if it's just as little as 5%, or 10%, you know, it could get as high as 20-25%, the fact that 75% of individuals kind of roll with it, and learn along the way, you know, on their own, and their brains are able to kind of like, get with a program shift, just assume everybody should be like that. And, and the reality is even what I found, even though 75%, there are gaps, there are things they're not really processing, about how they did that. So that they can have that perspective they need with their peers, or with their own children, when they become you know, parents or with their students when they come teachers. Because Yeah, it was so easy for you, and effortless, it seemed right. But there was some rough spots, and think about that, and think about some of the blind spots you still have, or some you know, strengths or weaknesses, some things that you really haven't gotten to, and when you can apply this model, you know, it becomes a model of positive change for everyone, not just the individuals that really, really need it. Because if they don't get it, they're really at risk of failure, dropping out of school, you know, and becoming, you know, non contributing members to society or, or not being able to create a meaningful life for themselves, you know, following on some path that has some sort of meaning to them. And, you know, they lack they lose that access, you know, to life. And I think that's a real well, we know, that's what we try to help individuals with, because we know that the tragedy that that is,

Sucheta Kamath: now George, I know you you present and you train for days, not just a day, and it's kind of a tall order for me to have you for 45 minutes. But tell me in the remaining time as we think about supporting or developing skills, choose one of your favorite skill set that you feel is a really important skill for as we teach children to develop executive function is like a Primo skill. And and also, secondly, in advice you might give to those who support children with difficulties as these skills are emerging are not emerging fast enough. What stance they can take.

George McCloskey: Um, yeah, that's that's a question that I hadn't really gotten before. When you said you know, before we started, it started making me think of it, you know, the, the the move toward mindfulness today. It has really kind of brought to the forefront a lot of the elements that we talked about. With Self Realization, on and self regulation is just a is a more basic level of executive control, and self regulate, you get up and you do it every day. And if you're not very good at it, you know, you could you can improve. But as I mentioned, if you have that self realization component, you can be aware of when it is that you're functioning effectively or not. And you can, you can quickly see when you're not, and try to make some corrections. Or, if you're given feedback, you can take that feedback and respond to it effectively. And so for me, and he said, What, so what's the one basic thing that would kind of strengthen self regulation, it's an awareness of the fact that you have it, and you need it, and you can use it. And that comes through mindfulness practices from the youngest ages on, if you can create that gap between perception and action, that enables you to engage your mind, and to see things more clearly. And be aware of the fact that you're about to make a mistake, you know, or you're about to go off track. And then just that ability to let that go. And you know, if it's, if it's something someone says that upset, should you just let it go. And then you see this, the, this the basis of meditation, isn't it, but it is, the thought comes to your mind, you just let it go. And you don't follow that thought you just let it go. And then you just refocus on your breath. And in that, that basic mindfulness practice, it could lead to meditation is really a strengthening of all the capacities in the frontal lobe, that will enable you to integrate all these aspects we talked about, to have better self regulation, to connect it up more effectively with self realization and self determination. And self realization is awareness of your awareness. Right? That self regulation, your it's, there's an awareness aspect, we're talking about meta awareness, if you can maintain an awareness of your awareness, you can self regulate more effectively. And the first step into that for younger children are mindfulness practices, just beginning to understand how to sit calmly, and follow your breath. And and just let it in, let it out and let other things go. And just be there present in the moment. Because that self realization has to be a moment to moment awareness that you stick that stays with you, that enables you then to choose how to self regulate at any given point in time.

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you for a kind of highlighting, I was very curious about your answer, actually. And, you know, one of the things that you have, you and I have talked about, which is so fascinating to me, that you actually have all the researchers who talk about executive function, you make a categorical distinction and advocate for it is the self actualization. So taking that self realization, self awareness skills, and transcending to a plane where you, you have not just aspiration to be a better person, like, I have an aspiration to become a patient person, that will be a great commitment. If I make myself I think the world around me will benefit from my commitment and skill set. That transcendence is possible. If we learn to just hang not just hang back, which is that mindfulness, but in that mindfulness, if we have some categorical information that we are evaluating, and and and then all the corrective measures are taken from that I have a more lasting impact on changing our personality, changing our attitudes, changing our mindsets, and changing our kind of tolerance for the world. Right?

George McCloskey: Oh, sure. And, and, yes, in that, we will talk about growth mindset, we talked about so many of those things. But it's also a maturation of your motivation, right? We, we start out with immediate gratification motivation, we just want to what I want that I like that, I want that I like that. And when you're a little kid, that's that's how life is right? And your parents have to go, No, you can't have that right now. And so we started having these constraints on our immediate gratification. But of course, by time, self determination kicks in self determination is not about immediate gratification. It's about setting goals and achieving them, which requires delayed gratification. So we have to have been learning along the way to delay our immediate desires. And to wait, you know, if we do what we need to do now, there will be a payoff later. So that delay of gratification becomes critical, but delayed gratification for what see when we get to this level, you can set goals, and you can delay gratification, you can achieve them. And you can get really good at that. But there should be this other aspect within you that starts refining your motivation to say, but why is that a goal that I have? Why don't want to accomplish that? What's the purpose of that? What's the meaning of that? Why do I want anything, and now you have to begin to develop some sort of a sense of ethics and morals that would guide what it is you want to know why you want it and understand that you need to relate to other people in the world relate to the world in certain ways. And, and if you don't, it's not going to be good. And there's just still things there that you should that that everyone should be agreed that there are good and right, and things that are not very good. And so that sense of right and wrong, that sense of good and bad, a moral ethical stance has to develop within the brain to kind of guide all that self determination that you have all those goals you want to set, so that you can be assured that you're headed somewhere, you know, with some sort of a purpose. And, and then, of course, we talk about, you know, the ultimate steps. And with that is, you know, what purpose? Is it that you're serving? What What do you believe? And do you believe you have a CEO? Do you believe that there's that you are in control of your brain? Or do you believe the answer to a higher power? Or do you believe there's no higher power? It's just me, when Why would it be good for you to act in a moral and ethical manner? Or are you drawn to some higher sense of purpose? And is that that higher sense of purpose, give you an ethical and moral sense of how to be in the world. And these are also frontal lobe functions. And I understand what you said, very often is research research, not talk about these aspects. Because we just we're getting into the metaphysical here, right? And these are things that science kind of, you know, was away from, but there are some scientists or take on Andy Newberg studies this and looks at brains and transit on meditative states, and how that impacts their functioning. And, you know, the connection between these these centers of the brain and the moral center of the brain, which is not the same as the center of the brain for self regulating, or being self determined, or self realized, you know, they all interconnect, but there are aspects and if you have an underutilized, underdeveloped moral sense, you can accomplish lots of things in the world. But if it's, if you crush everyone in your path, is that okay? And I think that's something that sometimes today we're not thinking about, so well.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you for this amazing conversation, I'm tempted to ask you to come back for part two, if you're able to, because there's so much more to talk about. As we end our conversation here today. What can you share two of your favorite books that you think have been meaningful to you? Maybe something personal, something professional? What do you recommend?

George McCloskey: You know, in the, from '91, on my exposure to the writings of Ken Wilber, were were really kind of eye opening to me, in terms of integrating all of this, and one of his books that he's written. One of his most recent books, is called Integral Meditation. And it talks about the path of growing up the cognitive development and waking up the, you know, the consciousness development. And, and, and the putting of those two together. And I think it's a great read, you know, it's maybe a bit esoteric for a lot of people. But for me, at this point in my life, it just really summarizes a lot of great thinking. But I think a very basic book that I like, and it has, you know, anyone can access is the book by the Dalai Lama, which is called Beyond Religion: Ethics for a new world. And it's a small, very short book, that is just packed with a tremendous amount of wisdom about, you know, that that what is it to be good and bad, what is right and wrong, and how to develop that that meditative mind. So that you can, you know, you can develop that that self reflected peace, Self Realization, that's so important, so critical when he talks about compassion, and talks about discernment, and intention. And these are things that are so important for us to develop and strengthen within frontal lobes, we need to understand and be able to discern the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, and be and have good intentions, we need to know that our intentions are clear and good. And we need to be compassionate, you know, toward author wise, there seems to be not quite the, you know, the purpose or the reason for, you know, for all the things that we're doing. And so putting those things together, I found over the years that that book is really kind of as relatively recent, right. But the Dalai Lama's ideas and thinking, you know, that have come through over the years are very evident that book, and it's a very short, very small book, and I recommend it to everyone.

Sucheta Kamath: But that's great, we will list them. This is a new thing I have added to the podcast, I think people have wisdom and where they gain wisdom, maybe we can follow that trail. So thank you, I feel 50% better because I've read one of those two recommendations. So thank you, George, for being here with us today and making this podcast very, very special. I have deep respect for your work and commitment. And I have learned so much from you and continue to do so. So thank you for your time today. And thank you all our listeners for tuning in. If you love what you're hearing, share this on social media, please invite your friends to like us. Download us or listen to us. And leave a comment if you if you have any questions. Feel free to reach out to me but have a wonderful day and thank you again for tuning in. To this podcast Full PreFrontal exposing them to executive function. Thank you.

George McCloskey: Thank you for having me Sucheta. I was great. I appreciate I hope we can go back Yeah, thank you.