Episode 58: Understanding Executive Functions and Processing Speed Part One
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Erica: Welcome to the Personal Brain Trainer podcast. I'm Dr. Erica Warren.
Darius: And I'm Darius Namdaran. And we're your hosts. Join us on an adventure to translate the scientific jargon and brain research into simple metaphors and explanations for everyday life. We explore executive function and learning strategies that help turbocharge the mind.
Erica: Come learn to steer around the invisible barriers so that you can achieve your goals. This podcast is ideal for parents, educators, and learners of all ages.
Darius: This podcast is sponsored by dyslexiaproductivitycoaching.com. We give you a simple productivity system for your Apple devices that harnesses the creativity that comes with your dyslexia.
Erica: This podcast is brought to you by goodsensorylearning.com, where you can find educational and occupational therapy lessons and remedial materials that bring delight to learning. Finally, you can find Dr. Warren's many courses at, learningspecialistcourses.com. Come check out our newest course on developing executive functions and study strategies.
Darius: Right, Erica, good to meet you this week. Nice to see you.
Erica: Nice, to see you, too, Darius.
Darius: So this week, we've decided to talk about processing speed, or as you Americans say, processing speed. So, processing speed is something that is talked about a lot by teachers in school, often more than dyslexia or adhd, et cetera. And sometimes it can just be used as a sort of catch all phrase and sometimes used so much that it stops being useful. And sometimes it's not even talked about within the workplace. But this is such a useful and important thing to understand about the way your brain works for yourself, reflecting self-awareness that affects your productivity, your happiness, et cetera. So, today's topic, Erica, what's our title for today?
Erica: Understanding executive functions and processing speed. Part one, because we felt that this topic was worth a double podcast. So we're doing part one this time, and our next one will be part two. And I think the first thing I want to talk to everybody about is, okay, what is processing speed? Processing speed has to do with how quickly you make sense of the information that you take in. Well, let me do it this way. I'm going to break it into three pieces because I think it'll make it easier. Processing speed can have to do with how quickly you take in the information, how quickly you perceive it. It also can have something to do with how quickly we interpret and understand it, which is more of the cognitive processing. And then finally, it could be how quickly we can produce a response or generate a response, because some people, they may take in the information quickly, they may process it quickly, but it may take them a while to produce a response. But all three of those. So the three steps are intake, processing, and then a generation of, whether you're speaking or writing. And all of those have to do with processing speed. It's really interesting because there's really that three step period.
Darius: So, like, if you thought of it as a house, step one is the door that takes information in. Step two is what happens in the house, and it gets processed. Step three is what comes out the house or a factory line in the factory output. So there is a process, literally, like a processing plant would be another analogy. And the interesting thing, I think, is, although I don't know if there's been any research done on this, although it would be interesting to find out if there is the interplay between and, we've talked about this quite a lot between executive functioning skills, the three areas of working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. Working memory is very much stuff coming in. Inhibitory control is very much focusing in on something. And cognitive flexibility is the adapting to the outer world. So there's coming in, there's the inner world, and then there's the adapting to the outer world, these executive function skills. But then underneath them, there's also not executive function skills, but processing skills that are connected. And that's where you see this distinction between dyslexia and ADHD, often, because often dyslexia is phonological processing difficulties and other processing difficulties. Dysgraphia is difficulties in processing hand movements, dyscalculia processing, mathematics, et cetera. These are all very specific to areas of processing. So I think this interplay is quite nice, the way you've split it up between coming in, inside and then going outside.
Erica: Yeah. And I think one of the things that we also want to think about discussing is what are the factors that affect these processing speeds? And I think the first one for us to talk about is age. Yeah, right. So just like executive functioning, it's very different for a youngster. They don't have the capacity yet. Their working memory is still quite small. They don't have that. It's the same thing with processing speed. I think that processing speed does change over time, and it generally increases through adolescence and then peaks in early adulthood, which is very similar to executive functions. And then, of course, again, we have with the older adults how the processing speed may decrease.
Darius: Do you think in the area of processing speed, it's something that can be trained to get faster and better?
Darius: Okay. I'm just stating obvious because sometimes we think, oh, that's just our processing speed. That's the speed capacity of our car is limited. And that's partly the age factor. As we're using that process, we're exercising it like a muscle is.
Erica: And, you know, one of the things this actually takes me to a little bit of a story here, which is with the Wexler adult intelligence scale, or even the WISC, which is for children, they have a processing speed index. And I always get frustrated with it because even though they have this index and they call it processing speed, it's really visual processing speed. And so I get a lot of kids that come to me with reports that say that this child has a slow processing speed, and I get very frustrated with that because that's not true. I can be working with them, and I look at the test, and I'm like, wow, okay. It says they have a poor processing speed. And I just spoke to this kid, and they process really quickly through language, or maybe they're very quick, even physically. But they've been given this label, and they've kind of accepted this label, that they have a slow processing speed, which everyone seems to equate with being slow, which has a very negative connotation. And when they internalize that, it actually creates more damage than good. And what I often have to tell these students is that. I'm sorry that you've been told that you have a slow processing speed, because if you're just looking at that one indicator on that intelligence scale, it's really only looking at visual processing, and that's how quickly you can look at things that are novel, right, that you've never done before, and being able to perhaps find an image very quickly or decode and decode something that's visual very quickly. And so it's really important for us to really make that distinction that there are these different types of processing speed, like visual processing, auditory processing, tactile processing, how quickly you can move your fingers, right? So, like a pianist, for example, that has a slow tactical processing speed, may not be able to do really fast songs. They might work a little bit slower or kinesthetic. Right. You could have slow kinesthetic processing. You might not be able to do a tap dance that's really quick and fast.
Darius: We've got a term for that now which is dyspraxia.
Darius: So what's really helpful for, I think when people get this idea of processing speed as a core concept, and then they realize it expresses itself within different functions of our mind differently. You've got the function of phonological processing, and if you're slow at that, that ends up being dyslexia. Then there's kinesthetic movement processing. And if you're slow at that, then you become clumsy, they say, which is dyspraxia. And then there's mathematical processing, this logical sequential, which is dyscalculic. And you've got dysgraphia, which is this fine motor control, which becomes dysgraphia for writing. And you can go through that sequence that they've been encoded within these disses. They're all leading back to processing speeds.
Erica: It can, and I think it usually does, but not always, because technically you could have a processing speed that was very slow. But maybe you're incredibly good at reading, you just are a slow reader. You process it slowly, but you process it well. if you process slowly, it doesn't necessarily mean that you don't process well.
Darius: Yeah, but the thing is, you would still be classed as dyslexic because there's loads of people who, like my daughter, for example, has very low processing speeds on certain functions, but she's very competent in those areas because she's compensating through a great deal of practice and very high intelligence. So you use other factors to compensate for it. So on the face of it, if you're judged by skill levels, and I think that's why some of these tests where you use randomized, silly words that are real sounding words, but they're not words, so you've not practiced on them. So you really have to do the phonological processing properly on them. And you can see the distinction between the two. Why don't you speak to that a bit?
Erica: Not sure if I'm going to speak to that because I have another thought that I have to express that I don't want to lose, which is we have to consider what's behind the slow processing. If perhaps the cause of the slow processing is because you are dyslexic, and you actually have to process a different way. So quote unquote, the fastest way to process isn't really working in your brain, and so you have to reprocess in a kind of longer, more convoluted way, or you're using a different part of your brain and that slows the processing down. That could be one cause of slow processing. You could even be a little compulsive where you're just super careful because you're super careful. It slows you down. There could be other people that just have just a slow sensory intake where they're just digesting things slowly or they're just bringing them in or because it takes them. They could have ADHD and just that sensory overload and then having to kind of filter out that sensory overload, that could slow you down. So there's so many different things. It's so hard to know what the root of the processing problem is.
Darius: Now, I don't do these assessments. That's not my bag. But don't the designers of these assessments, aren't they trying to narrow down a singular set of skills to try and identify particular process and not muddle it up with something else? Because there's a whole ton of them, different strands of tests for processes and so on?
Erica: there are, as I said, the most common intellectual test use, and they usually use that indicator of processing speed as an indicator of, oh, this is the student's indicator of processing speed is the whisk and the waste, and they're not really pulling processing speed apart. And I think that there are some people that do very comprehensive testing and they do pull it apart, but I think that's rare.
Erica: that's rare. So I don't think we do dive in carefully enough. We do tend to make these crazy generalizations based on a few tests when in fact, that may not be that accurate.
Darius: I mean, I look at some of the tests that teachers are doing in, that assessors are doing in the, you know, I should look at them more carefully. I'd love to interview one of them and ask them in more detail about the whole area of processing. Because in UK schools, processing speed is talked about by teachers a lot. And we've had this conversation before, Erica, where we talked about processing in a different light, maybe not as in depth as we're going to do today, and that was that. Sometimes someone will accept, a teacher will accept, oh, they've got their slow processing, and then they go, therefore, I need to do X, Y and Z. And sometimes you need to go, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute. Slow processing doesn't mean everything, or there's an automatic, therefore we need to slow down and decide, slow processing where and then deal with that. And that's exactly what you're talking about right now, isn't it?
Erica: It is. I love what you just said. Slow processing where.
Erica: What does it look like for that individual? Because everybody's going to make their own generalizations, right? If we're not specific, and we just see slow processing. We're going to process that through what we believe slow processing is, and that may not be the case of what it is for that individual. So it would be really nice for reports to be more specific about exactly what type of slow processing this individual has. And does it go across all areas of processing?
Darius: Well, I think it would be really helpful for people listening to address these labels of dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia. There's more. I can't remember them all, but a lot of people will have these labels, and many of them are connected to processing speeds in a particular area.
Erica: Many of them are, but not all. Not all. you could, for example, be dyslexic and not have a slow auditory processing. In fact, you could be dyslexic and have excellent auditory processing skills. You could be dyslexic because you have visual processing issues, and it could be.
Darius: Phonological processing, for example, which is different from auditory processing. So you could have, good auditory processing but poor phonological processing.
Erica: That's true. That's true. But not all dyslexics have poor phonological processing. Now, I would say most do, yes. from what I've seen. But there are those that they can get that diagnosis because they have slow, rapid, automatic naming. Right. So they just can't access. Which is getting back to the response generation.
Erica: That last step that we talked about where they can't seem to access the information, they know it, but they're very slow to access it and may never access it in that moment. It may come to them later. So they have dysnomia, or they have a hard time just thinking of the names of things.
Erica: The thingamajig over in the doohickey. Today they might be able to think of all those terms, but tomorrow they can't. So that definitely slows processing. So you could have slow processing for so many different reasons. But it's interesting now that you say that it's got me thinking that even if they are dyslexic, they have slow, rapid, automatic naming, which is really auditory recall. I guess that would be. And then if it's phonological, it could be slow phonological processing. And I guess if they had a visual form of dyslexia, it would be slow visual processing. But it may not necessarily be slow visual processing because it could be something else. It could be more discrimination. They could have an issue with visual discrimination, and it may not be the visual processing, just like. Same with. They could have dyslexia due to auditory processing issues, can definitely lead to phonological issues, but maybe they don't. Maybe they have auditory discrimination issues where they can't detect the difference between the letter and, to them, they sound the same, or a. And, eh, they can't discriminate, and that's what causes the dyslexia. So their processing speed could be just as fast as can be, but they can't detect the subtleties and sounds. So it's so complex.
Darius: In conclusion, what we're talking about is there are multiple processes happening within our brain.
Darius: And each one of those processes could be slow or fast, and as a result of being slow or fast, they can have an impact. And, ah, what you're saying is there's a cluster of them, and you've identified those three, four, or five of those that would come under the umbrella of dyslexia. There's a cluster of them that would come under the umbrella of dysgraphia or dyspraxia, these kinds of kinesthetic ones. There's a cluster that comes under mathematics, dyscalculia. And you just said dysnomia as well. How many disses are there? But nevertheless, we're not getting into that level of depth here. But the point I think that we are getting across here is that processing speed is not one core processing speed. It's multiple different processes. It's kind of, in a way, like a fuse box. I'm imagining a fuse box with lots of wires going into it, and different ones are rated at different levels and can take a certain amount of power, as it were. It's a crude analogy, but it's not one big wire that goes in and powers your brain and processes, or one big engine. It's lots of small engines, as it were.
Erica: Or if you think about it, I like that wire, because some electrical wires have multiple wires within them.
Darius: That's right.
Erica: That are twisted around each other. So that's kind of how I see processing speed. It's this big, massive electrical wire that has lots of other little wires that are within it that then split off once it hits the brain.
Darius: Oh, I see. So we're talking about processing as a whole. One big word. We could, the encapsulated cable, but then within it, it's got like, we've got an earth, a neutral, and so on. Or you've got multiple wires that can be separated, and some are probably rated at different levels. Some are bigger and thicker, and some are thinner and finer. And so some people really love visual processing, et cetera, because more information can pass through on that level, and others on the movement, kinesthetic, experiential, et cetera. Interesting analogy. I think we've mentioned this before, but I think it's useful to bring into this conversation at this stage, my kind of analogy of processing being slow processing. It was really hard for my daughter to hear the words, your slow processor. And she was like, dad, I really don't understand what that means. Does that mean that I'm not that intelligent? And I'm like, no, you've got a very high IQ. You've just got slow processing. And she's like, that doesn't make sense, because if you've got a computer with a processor in it, the faster the processor is, the more powerful the computer is. So how can you say I've got a slow processor, but I've got high intelligent? It doesn't make sense. So then I made up this analogy to help her. And the analogy was, imagine your IQ as the engine of the car, and then your gearbox of the car is your processing. And for you, you're a slow processor because you're a manual processor. You go up the gears manually, and other people are more automatic. They go into drive, and then the power from the engine gets put to the wheels more automatically. And some people are very slow processors. They've got, like, 18 gears. Like a truck has got 18 gears to get up to 60 miles an hour. You maybe got five gears to get up to 60 miles an hour. And someone else is just on one gear drive, and they get up to 60 miles an hour by just putting their foot on the gas. And some people, in that analogy when it comes to visual processing, are just automatic drivers. And when it comes to phonological processing, are very manual at, having to do it. And so they have to go through the gears so they're slow, but they're actually slow because they have to be much more intentional about it. What are your thoughts on that analysis?
Erica: I like that analysis. I think that's nice. And I think what we're getting down to is that it's all about speed. It's about how long it takes you to do a task. Right. And what's interesting about processing speed, and we're going to talk more about this in part two, is that there is this huge continuum. We can say, all right, well, this is the normal speed. This is the average speed for which it takes someone to do this task, and then people can be much slower, and people can be much faster. But there's a point at which the speed can be too fast or too slow, and then there's kind of this sweet spot where it's fairly normal and it's not going to affect your output.
Darius: But the output is the key point there because some of this sounds so very intellectual and abstract and, fine, but it actually affects your real life.
Erica: You're right.
Darius: Actually affects how you get up in the morning and do things in the morning as a kid, how you listen to people, how you read, how you take in information, how you give people answers. Are you the type of person that gives a quick answer in a meeting? Or do you need to go away, think about it, and come back the next day and sleep on it sort of thing? Or there's so many consequences for this in real life, isn't there?
Erica: And then there's your environment. If you're in an environment with somebody that's teaching a class and they're processing too fast for you.
Erica: In other words, they're speaking too fast, and you're just getting this cognitive overload to the point where you just can't even process anything because it's coming at you too fast.
Erica: Or the, opposite, where you've got a teacher that's speaking so slowly that you just lose attention.
Darius: Yeah, absolutely.
Erica: You know what?
Darius: It doesn’t talk anymore like that because I'm going to fall asleep.
Erica: It's so funny, because a good friend of ours, Stan Gloss, listened to one of our podcasts, and afterwards he called me. He's like, why do you guys speak so slow? I just couldn't even make sense of it. And it turned out that he just had his, I guess you can change the speed, at which you listen to it. And he had it really low, and he thought it was us. And I'm like, no, it wasn't us. We process in that average range. You must somehow had the processing much slower. But that's actually one of the beauties about listening to podcasts or any kind of audio output, that you can speed it up or slow it down. And in fact, that's a perfect example of how you can increase your processing speed. This is a wonderful way to increase your auditory processing speed, and that is to listen to something at a comfortable level and then inch it up just so that you can barely tell each week. And then you'll find that your brain will adjust, and you will actually learn to process faster. So that's a wonderful way to increase your auditory processing speed. But interesting to know that it's not just all about processing too slowly, it can be processing too fast.
Darius: We talk about that next week.
Erica: Yes, we are, but that is the.
Darius: Continuum, this continuum, and it's a muscle. So we've got two analogies here, okay? So it's not a fixed mindset that this is just the way it is and that's it. So it's really important, because I think it's very important with all these disses, like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and all the rest. Like someone who is dysgraphic can still learn to write. Dysgraphia means difficulty in writing. Someone who's dysgraphic can still learn to write, they can still learn to write beautifully. They could even become a calligraphist. But the point there is that it's not going to come to them, automatically like it does for the average.
Erica: It's so interesting too. Sorry to interrupt, because actually when they are dysgraphic, I want to slow them down. Sometimes they're just going too fast and that's the problem. And that you have to slow them down so that they can perfect the micro movements. And so sometimes you have to slow down to get fast.
Darius: Well, that's where my main thing when I'm coaching children and adults is slow is smooth, smooth is fast, and that's so important, you've got to slow it down until the point you can get smooth at it. And the moment you can be smooth at it, then you can start speeding up to fast. But if you try and go from slow straight to fast, you'll always fumble the ball and always be hoping for the best, rather than knowing you will get the best.
Erica: Well, it's building to automaticity, but you can't build automaticity if you're just kind of fumbling because you're going too fast for even yourself.
Darius: Absolutely. And that's part of the point. Each one of these processing styles, you can be naturally automatic at it or naturally manual at it. And if you're naturally manual or slow, I prefer manual because I do too. It's just like you are slow because you are manual, and you haven't learnt how to smoothly go up those gears. Some people can go up the gears of a car faster than an automatic car. They can go 1st, 2nd, 3rd, bang. They're up to 70 miles an hour faster than automatic rather than m, and it decides when. So a racing car driver is like, give me a manual any day, because I have complete control. And so what's interesting is you might have an area of slow processing that you have too manually, intentionally master. And in doing so, you become a master of that area. So, for example, you could be dyspraxic, clumsy, et cetera. But then you could become an excellent ballerina because you've had to be so intentional and precise. You could be dyslexic, so really slow at learning to read, maybe in your manual, but then you could become a speed reader or a really good writer, et cetera, because of that intentionality in processing.
Erica: And when you're doing the remediation, it's about targeting. So again, if we're trying to teach someone to write and we're asking them to do everything that a writer does, which is handwrite and think their thoughts and spell, and we're giving them too much to multitask, they'll never get better. So what we have to do is we have to pull away a lot of those tasks, those multitasks and unitask to automaticity.
Erica: If you take each of those individual tasks and build them to automaticity, then you can unite them, and then their processing speed will go up. But sometimes all it takes is one thing that's not automatic and that slows our processing.
Darius: Well, that's where I call it, going up the gears. So you've got to break down that automatic. Everything done in one go into drive thing, down into five gears. And if you don't get the shift from second gear to third gear, and you kind of fumble that a little bit, if everyone's driven, that's an often one that you fumble a little bit as a beginner, then you're going to have problems on the road. And one of the interesting things of this analogy is, let's say you find it hard to go from second to third gear. Okay? You're approaching a roundabout, and you decide, I've got to slow down and go from third to second gear. You're concentrating so much on the process that you stop paying attention to the road and you end up becoming a really dangerous driver. And then other people on the outside of you start looking at you, thinking you're a careless individual that doesn't care about other road users. And the actual fact is you really do care. But there's a process that you keep fumbling that you think you should be automatic at. And that's the key thing that I see in so many people. They think, oh, I should just be able to do this. And you're like, no, not everyone should just be able to do this. Some people need to slow this down, break it down into steps. I mean, even as an adult, some people find it hard using a calendar, right? You can be 40 years old, 50 years old, and you're like, I have an embarrassing secret. I can't use a calendar. That's a process that most people think, oh, well, you just open up your calendar, you schedule it in, jobs done, off you go. What's the big deal? But someone might need to think, all right, like we've said in the past, this time blindness, all right, I need to chunk it down. How long is that going to take? When's that going to start? I need to slow it down. I need to see it visually, maybe rather than just writing numbers down, I need to see a grid and put it straight into a grid. Lots of little things that can make the difference, but it all comes down to this processing anyway. We have talked a lot about helping people understand this area processing. How should we help people spot their areas of slow processing? Because everyone's got them somewhere or other, right? We've all got our strengths and weaknesses.
Erica: I think we are usually aware, for example, if it takes you longer to express your ideas, right? That would be more of an expressive language, where your processing speed may be slower. In expressive language, it could be receptive language of listening and taking it in and making sense of it. It could be visual processing. As we said, what you see and make sense of through your eyes. It could be auditory processing, what you make sense of through your ears. It could be tactile, as we've said, what you make sense of, what you feel, making sense of your movement, body movements, being able to remember and repeat dance moves, for example. So, yeah, there are lots of different ways, but the other thing that's very interesting is that there are these kinds of external factors that can affect our processing speed, such as lack of sleep or anxiety and stress, or poor nutrition. Right.
Darius: Like lack of omega three, for example.
Erica: I was just thinking of that. Or vitamin D, right? Or lack of physical fitness. You've just been sitting around, and that slows you down. And it's interesting, and they say if you don't use it, you lose it. If you don't use it, you get slower.
Darius: What about insulin spikes and sugar spikes and that whole kind of roller coaster of sugar highs and lows and so on, that could affect your processing as well.
Erica: Absolutely. I mean, in fact, what do they do for many kids with attention deficit disorder is they give them stimulants and stimulants help to increase processing. Right. So stimulants can increase processing, and depressants actually can slow processing. Kind of interesting, right? Hadn't really thought about it that way, but they do. So even if someone's in a manic episode, for example, they could take some type of depressant that would slow their processing, because when you're in a manic episode, you are processing too fast. When you're depressed, you're processing too slow. So it also affects our psychology as well as our cognitive abilities, which is so interesting.
Darius: Yes. So, like, age affects it, how mature you are in terms of your growth, and then, your environment and also the food you've got within your internal body environment, as it were.
Erica: I feel that myself. I mean, I know that I have a very clean diet, and when I went on it, my processing speed increased dramatically. It was amazing. Well, allergens, for example, travel in the bloodstream, so, they not only affect the body, but they affect the brain. So when you're having an allergic reaction, you often process slower. Yeah, it's really interesting. Or when you're not feeling well, you process slower. I really see that in my partner after a really hard day, when he comes home, he processes much slower because he's just exhausted.
Darius: Yeah. Because a lot of parents with children with dyslexia, they come home from school and they're so exhausted. It's one of the common traits of dyslexia. Why is my child so exhausted at the end of school? And the biggest irony is then they've often got a tutor to go to in the evening because they've got the difficulties at school, do you know what I mean?
Erica: And homework and sports, and they're just wiped.
Darius: And that is often because you're processing harder.
Darius: Because there is something about manual processing versus automaticity. So you've got manual automaticity, and automatic now, automaticity is where you've gone manually through the process and become automatic at it. Then there's just people who are just automatically kind of good at that. They don't need to use a lot of cognitive function to go through that process. But if you're going through those gears, it does take more cognitive power and energy. And a lot of children, especially if they're reading a lot, they're exhausted afterwards. Some people, after five minutes of reading, it feels like they've read for one or 2 hours, and they're like, oh, I've got to take a break.
Erica: Right. It takes up more cognitive load. Their wheels are spinning at a faster pace, and many more cogs are involved in that process. And they get home, and they're done, they're cooked, they're over, and they need a lot of brain breaks. And even if they take a brain break, they may not rejuice like they were at 08:00 in the morning, where they're refreshed after a good night's sleep. So many of these kids, yeah, they're caput, and that's really tough for them. And then, of course, you throw in a little anxiety or stress into the mixture, and that messes with processing speed and even your memory and your capabilities. But of course, you're going to feel anxious and stressed if you've got all this homework done, all this homework to do, and you're spent.
Darius: Now, this still applies also to adults.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely.
Darius: Sometimes we're very conscious of how it affects our children. We can see how it affects our children when they come in from school and energy levels and things like that. But also, just because you're older doesn't mean it's taking less processing power. And I think there's an element where if you're automatic at it, it draws less watts from the battery, as it were.
Darius: If you've trained to automaticity, you've got that smoothness and so on. It does take a bit more energy, but it's still pretty comparable to auto. But if you're manual, each step is three, four, five times as much energy being used to go intentionally. Because a lot of it is about attention and intention. it's like your battery of attention and intention. You're like your willpower battery. If you imagine you've got to choose to go through from first to second to third to fourth to fifth gear to get up to 70 miles an hour, because if you don't do that, it doesn't matter how powerful your engine is, you're going to limit yourself. You've got to get into the right gear. And so there's a lot of intentionality involved in going through those gears. And I think a lot of processing is about this intentionality. And we talked about this with our podcast, that automaticity is so important, habits are so important in order to relieve our mind from having to expend energy on these lower-level tasks. So you can concentrate that energy on higher level tasks. And that energy in very much is not just physical energy or calorific energy. It's the energy of attention and intention, the energy of the will.
Erica: Right. But when something becomes a habit, we're no longer intentional anymore. So there's kind of this strange little loop about it, so that as soon as everything becomes automatic, then we lose our intention, and then, yeah, we stop to grow. We stop growing.
Darius: Well, yes and no. Yes and no. Because on some things, you go, right. I've intentionally created this habit, and I want that to go on automatic loop. And it's good that that's on automatic, because we've only got a limited amount of attention and intention. So we put that to the higher-level functions, and that's really where this inhibitory control, this focus, where we put our focus. But if we're putting some of our focus on how to decode a word and some of our focus on how to spell a word and some of our focus on, is this grammatically correct as a sentence? And then what's left for the creative act of. What am I going to say in terms of an argument or a creative story or whatever? Certain kids can just be completely exhausted, and so can adults. And that's the advantage of automaticity that you've said, too.
Erica: Right. But we also have to be careful, because if we go too much to automaticity, it can lead to all sorts of problems, too, where we become stagnant and we don't grow. And I see that sometimes in teachers that have gotten, forgive me, tenure, and they've created their course content, and they just go through it, but they're not even present, and they're not even really living. They're just kind of in this automatic pilot, and they lose their passion for teaching. And the kids don't enjoy the classes, but there's this kind of sweet spot of always remaining intentional, even if we have become automatic.
Darius: Yes. And that's part of the, you could turn challenges with processing into a huge advantage.
Darius: In terms of this autopilot side of things, because a lot of people, when it comes to writing, processing, composition of writing, go into automatic. They've just got their style. But then often, people with dyslexia are kind of, like, making up their style as they go along, new every single time, because they're having to recreate the wheel as they're going along and be so intentional about it, and they can stumble across very interesting styles of writing. And then when they find something good, the trick is to then encode that into something that is autopilot so that you don't lose. It's like a great chef. A chef improvises, creates something intentionally, and then they forget what all the ingredients are. So there's this rhythm between chaos and order where you've got this chaotic improvisation and adaption, but then you've got this order of saying, oh, that was a good one. Let's write that down as a recipe so we can redo it again in the right order.
Erica: Yeah. And it's funny, there was something you said in there that triggered another story of mine, which is, when I work with people that have slower processing speeds in some area, I often tell them that, let's not call it slow processing speed. You're careful. You're just being careful, and I like that. That's so much better. So you're just taking more care. Instead of being a slow processor, you're taking more care. So you're doing things in a way that's going to assure that you get it or that you have success. And when you flip it like that, for some of these people, they're so grateful. They're so incredibly grateful. Oh, my gosh. You're right. I am. I'm just being careful. And that feels so much better to think of myself as being careful instead of slow.
Darius: That's, great.
Erica: Isn't that nice?
Darius: It is lovely. You've said that before, but I forgot it. And it's so powerful because let's say you're dys anything. What do you call it when you're clumsy at the beginning? Dyspraxic. So if you know you're dyspraxic and your movement control is a little bit not under, you need to be more careful, as it were. And that's where I just am, more careful with the way you just are more careful with the way you move through space and so on.
Erica: And when you utilize it that way, you're being intentional. If you tell someone they're slow, there's no intention in there. But when you call someone careful, that's kind of a compliment, because you're taking care. It's sweeter. It's so funny. I think my least popular thing to ever tell any learner is that they're careless.
Erica: One of the kindest things you can tell them is that they're careful.
Darius: So their inner voice would be saying, I am, more careful when it comes to moving, or I am more careful when it comes to writing, or I'm more careful when it comes to reading or when it comes to listening, which basically means I have to pay more attention, slow things down, and pay more care to that. In order to process that information, I need to be more careful about the steps it takes to get through the gears there's a lot to take care of when you've got a challenge, in an area of processing. Else have we got on our list today to chat about? You've got a flow here. Let's keep with your flow.
Erica: So we just have two more things to talk about, and that is the impact of processing speed on learning and academics as well as the workplace. So we've kind of tapped into this a little bit, but we'll tap into it with a little bit more intention. So how does processing speed impact, or a slow processing speed, or perhaps even a fast, an abnormal, or I hate that word out of norm. How does that impact learning and academics? First of all, it affects the grasping of concepts. How can you grasp the concept? If it's too slow, you may not be able to grasp it. If it's too fast, you may not be able to grasp it, whether it's coming at you too fast or too slow, or whether it takes you too long or too fast to grasp it. So processing speed has a lot to do with being able to, I guess, which is looking at working memory, which we'll go more into next week, our next podcast. But yeah, it's all about being able to grasp the concepts. And then another one. Another area that impacts learning in academics is following instructions. A lot of individuals have difficulty following instructions because they processed maybe too slowly and didn't hear them all, or they jumped the gun. But it can also impact reaction time. That's obvious. That's kind of clear, right? Because if you're processing slowly, you're not going to react fast enough. Whether it's in any one of those three distinctions from the beginning of the podcast, whether it's pulling information in, processing it, or responding, it's going to affect your reaction time. And then, of course, you may not be able to get the tasks completed within the time allotted. You may not be able to finish the test. So a lot of students that have slow or processing speed issues really struggle with completing a test in the appropriate amount of time. And many of them need that reasonable accommodation of time and a half or double time. And then, of course, people that struggle with processing tend to struggle with time management issues. How can you manage your time if you're not processing at an appropriate amount of time? So if you're processing too slowly or too fast, you may not be able to be on time, or you may lose your understanding of time or get distracted by time. Yeah. And then finally, social cues, you may struggle with reading nonverbal cues, or even verbal cues or even expressing verbal cues or nonverbal cues. If your processing speed is off, are there any other learning or academic ones that come to mind for you?
Darius: Well, there's basic ones, like reading. It can affect your reading. Your speed of reading.
Darius: It can affect your rate of reading out loud. So some people, the slow processing can affect the way they read out loud. So it can affect when you give a presentation or something, because they have written notes, and then they have to read it out loud. The process of reading it out loud and saying in your head and then saying it with your words can totally interrupt the flow of thought to give a talk, and that can lead into adulthood. I think the five main areas that I think of processing affecting is reading, writing, remembering, tests, and organizing. So those five main areas. Reading information, writing information, tests, remembering, and, organization, planning. Those kind of five main areas, I see processing affecting quite a lot and.
Erica: Then making sense of. Literally processing.
Erica: Right. Making sense of it. It's really that stage within working memory.
Darius: Yeah. Because this is where we've talked about this before, this interdynamic. Because they're not separate systems. You've got the processing, and then you've got the executive function layer on top, which is a decision-making layer. Deciding with working memory, what's important and what's not important and where it goes. Inhibitory control. What we are focusing in on right now, cognitive flexibility, what we adapting to, et cetera. But within that, underneath that, there is processing involved underneath. So the processing isn't necessarily a decision-making process. That's the executive function level. But it does need digested before the executive function layer decides what it's going to build or make or do with it. So, in many ways, it's kind of like a digestion process. I think digestion is a good analogy for processing as well. We've used lots of analogies.
Erica: It's that middle piece. It's that middle piece. Not the intake or the outtake. It's the digestion, which is the true cog, so to speak.
Darius: Yes. So if we use the whole digestion analogy, like when the moment we take some food into our mouth, it is being digested.
Erica: Right. But we're tasting it, we're, receiving.
Darius: It, and that's the. In part, that's processing quickly.
Erica: Do you actually. Yeah.
Darius: So the saliva is starting to do it, the chewing moment, breaking it down. Each of these stages of your digestive process, down the esophagus, massaging it into pieces, and down into your stomach, and then down into your large intestine. Then into the small intestine and then into your bloodstream or whatever is rejected.
Erica: Anywhere along that process, there could be something that's moving a little bit slowly and that's affect processing speed. That's a good analogy.
Darius: a good analogy. If you think about all of these, sections, mouth, the trachea, then the stomach, and all these different areas are processes.
Erica: Our brain has probably more than that, right? It's far more complex. So many different places where we could have a slowdown, so to speak, a bottleneck.
Darius: And so within this analogy of this, two layers of processing on the base layer and executive function on the top. The processing is our digestive system. We are literally processing food in our digestive system. And we're also literally processing information into our mental digestive system. And that processing becomes the building blocks of what we build into thoughts and ideas and memories and intentions and decisions and plans and projects and companies and products and everything else that comes from that whole process. It's building the basic building blocks.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely. And you know what? We just have one more area, which is the workplace. And we've talked a lot about the things that also impact the workplace. But there are a few new things, because really, when we're in a workplace, we're looking for things like efficiency. Can we complete the task? Can we adapt? Can we make the decisions? Can we be a team player? And of course, processing impacts all of these things in different ways.
Darius: Well, with my workplace strategy, coaching for adults in the workplace, I see this a lot. And I think one of the areas of being self-aware of how you process information is so important in the workplace. So you're in a meeting, for example. This is probably one of the biggest areas. You see it in meetings, because often in meetings, it's a dynamic place. You're having a conversation, you're discussing, you're making decisions, you're processing information, you're digesting new information, you're giving out new ideas and concepts, you're trying to persuade or dissuade, or there's a whole heap of kind of outputs happening where you're either digesting new information or you're giving new information or deciding. So this is where this whole area of processing and executive functions all meet - in this one place of a, meeting. And that's probably one of the most intense places where it can be beneficial to understand about this, or very detrimental if you don't understand about this. An example would be my wife really likes to go away and is very introverted and often introverted people like to go away and ruminate like a cow eats some grass and then chews it away and passes it through a few guts before it's completely digested. Rather than. She needs time to process that information.
Erica: She chews their cud.
Darius: She chews the cud. Yeah. and m. It was most telling when we both went to university again as adults. Okay. We were at university when we were young, and then as adults, we went to university, and we did exactly the same course. We were in exactly the same lectures, and we were reading exactly the same books. And she would go to a lecture, and I would be sitting beside her, and after the lecture, I'd go to her, oh, isn't that amazing? How this and that and so on. And she said, Darius, I can't talk about it. I'm like, well, what's wrong? And she said, I haven't processed it yet. And I'm like, oh, okay. But I really want to talk to someone about this because this is fascinating and amazing. She's like, sorry, Darius, I can't talk about it. I said, when will you be able to talk about it? In three days. Wow. In three days.
Erica: Well, it's interesting. She did process it because she wants to reprocess it.
Darius: No, she didn't process it. She couldn't talk to me about it.
Erica: That's so interesting.
Darius: If I asked her about. But what about that? Wasn't that really interesting, that fact she says, Darius, no, you're just stressing me out. Don't talk to me about it. Because wow. It's like it's gone in her mouth. She's got it all. She's chewed it, but it's not gotten to the stomach and digest.
Erica: Swallowed it yet.
Darius: Yeah, it's not hers yet. It's in the body, but it's not been assimilated.
Erica: That's great.
Darius: And it's kind of like, if I started to speak to her about it, at that point, I realized she'd get indigestion.
Darius: Yeah. the interesting thing is, and this is where it's relevant to the workplace, is that when she was younger, she didn't have the self-awareness to say that.
Darius: She would enter into that conversation thinking, I should be talking about this. And it would stress her out completely because she's got indigestion. She's not processed it yet.
Erica: No wonder she's properly.
Darius: She can't properly contribute. But you give her two or three days, and she comes back, she can give the lecturer a run for her money.
Darius: Because she's really digested that well.
Erica: And think about how this impacts the workplace. If you had a really deep understanding of all of your staff's processing abilities and needs, you could give them what they needed so that you could get maximum efficiency and productivity.
Darius: And that's just one area. So let's say you've got someone who's like my wife. If you're setting the agenda for the meeting, you would say, we are going to bring this up, okay? And then we're going to schedule, as an information slot, not a decision slot. So you would say, look, we're just going to share the information here. We're just going to put it out. We're not going to come to any hasty decisions. So you can just relax. Here's the information. And next week, in seven days, we'll come back to it once we've all processed it, and we can have a proper discussion. Now, I could make a decision there and then because I've digested it and I want to make a decision there and then. And if I'm the leader of that meeting, often you're like, we just got to make a fast decision here and move on. But you won't get the best out of the food that people have digested and the best out of those people. So that's one application of processing in the workplace. But there's so many others. There's another, which is, it's the whole thing about visual processing. Okay? Now, this is something very fascinating to me because my daughter, let's give you another analogy. So my daughter comes up with these great plans for her ferrets, okay? She's got the most amazing ferret house you can imagine, okay? Five ferrets. And she dots on them, and she creates these incredible runs and so on. So she comes up with ideas and says, dad, I want to tell you about this idea and get your input on what you think might work and won't work. What she will do is describe it all to me with words. And, within about three minutes, I am overwhelmed because she said, oh, you know, the back end on the left-hand side, and then this bit on the top, and then it goes down the angle, and then it hits this corner, does that, and I'm like, oh, my goodness. You're describing a picture with words. I need to see it as a picture. And so younger me would have gone, oh, I should be able to understand all of this. I'll just sit there and listen. And halfway through that conversation, half an hour in, I'm still trying to figure if she's talking about the bottom left-hand corner or the top left-hand corner, or which way things are round and so on, and you're putting a good face on it, and that's the key. You put a good face on it, you're nodding your head, you're understanding everything that is saying, but you're not getting the big picture. But now she knows me well enough to say, dad, do you need a picture? And I go, yeah, I'd really love a picture. And we go to the whiteboard. She'd draw a picture. Or I know myself well enough to say, hold on a minute, Megan, could we just go over to the whiteboard? And I just draw this out? And I draw out, and within two minutes I've given her the answer. And it's really good because I'm working to my strengths of how I process visually and practically. And that helps with working memory, for example, because if you're just using words and you're just juggling lots of words, like we're doing in this podcast, throwing lots of information, and you're having to think about that word and this word and the left and the back and the front and then the plastic and the wood and this and the screws here and so on, you're juggling all these pieces in your mind, but if you put it onto a picture, no working memory required, because it's all stuck in place.
Erica: Well, for you. For you. And that's what's so brilliant. that's why I think it's so important to assess people's processing styles if you want to call. That's really their ways of processing. What are their best ways of processing? And when you learn that it's amazing how much more compassionate you can be and how you can communicate with people on a much higher level because you know kind of what their language is, so to speak.
Darius: Yes. and I think in the workplace, what you see is when a person is getting overwhelmed with an area of processing, they get really anxious. And when they get really anxious, you can misunderstand that. You can misunderstand that in yourself. You think, oh, I don't like this ferret project. No, you're fine with this ferret project. You're just getting stressed out because you can't see what she's talking about yet. Or so many misunderstandings come about if you don't understand how, you yourself process or other people. But it's got to start with yourself, because I think once you start understanding the way you process information, you can advocate for yourself, and you can say, look, I could do with a day or two to think about this. And then other people think, well, if Joe asks for a day or two to think about it, maybe I can ask that we go over to the whiteboard and draw this all out, because it really helps me process it. And so everybody starts asking for what kind of helps them. And actually, it can help everyone, because just because that one area of processing is hard for you and, you bring in something that helps it, it will actually help everyone's digestion in that area.
Erica: Absolutely. And I am, in the next couple of months changing my student processing inventory to the individual processing inventory. And I really want to encourage people to use it in the workplace for that very purpose. Because it's so great when you learn about how people process so that you can accommodate each other, and there's so much more compassion, and people get along so much better when they have this new understanding, because honestly, we process the way we process. It's very hard to step out of the way you process, but when you have that way of seeing people, it's amazing.
Darius: Well, this is a two-part, and we'll carry on in the next part. So look forward to continuing this conversation in part two about processing.
Erica: Awesome. Thanks, Darius.
Darius: See ya.
Erica: Thank you for joining our conversation here at the Personal Brain trainer podcast. This is Dr. Erica Warren and, Darius Namdaran.
Darius: Check out the show notes for links to read sources mentioned in the podcast, and please leave us a review and share us on social media until next time. Bye.