The Challenges of “Executive Function”

Update on November 14:

Yesterday, I finished bringing Quicken up to date through July. Only 3 more statements to go before I actually know how much money I have on hand! AND I finished a painting project! What is going on here? Am I growing an Executive Function? Ω


So proud of myself today! I just reconciled (on Quicken) my February bank statement. I haven’t yet received my November statement, so technically I wasn’t quite ten months behind, but close enough!

Now that I’ve broken the ice-jam, I will be able to focus on this project, and bring myself up to date in short order. It’s one of those chores I hate to do, so I put it off till tomorrow, which turns into a week, then a month, then several months; until I have very little idea of just how much money I really have on hand.

This has both practical and psychological penalties. I become paralyzed when it comes time to pay some big bills, because I’m afraid that I might write a check that’s too large for my bank balance. Then, I get anxious about the possibility of falling behind on important obligations (like my property tax, for example), and this leads to further paralysis and avoidance of the whole issue. My tax bill is here? Okay, I guess it’s time to do some yardwork!

Why is this so difficult for me? After all, I made my living as a financial analyst! I am a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), which in the investment industry carries about the same weight as an MBA (maybe more!). I have a graduate degree in economics. I published extensively on all kinds of investment subject; stocks, bonds, international diversification, security valuation, pricing of futures, forecasting foreign exchange rates, and on and on.

Well, the essential difference is, I think, that my mind can grasp financial theory; I can study equations and play with them until they become friends, I can visualize probability distributions in my head, and predict how they will change if parameters are modified. In fact, I loved doing this, and found it fascinating, stimulating, and satisfying.

But, balancing my checkbook? How boring! I mean, who really cares; it’s such a pedestrian thing to do! Sorta like washing the dishes or vacuuming. Sure, I like living in a clean space, but if it’s a bit messy, it doesn’t bother me because I can visualize what it looks like when it’s neat and clean, and that’s enough for me.

Well, all of that makes a nice story, and parts of it may even be amusing, but it’s not necessarily fun to live this way; it is a great source of anxiety for many reasons. One is a sense of personal failure. I should be able to keep track of my personal finances. I know how to do it, and I know it’s important, so why don’t I do it very well?

As I’ve learned more and more about my autism, I’ve come to forgive myself for lapses like this. I now realize that using what psychologists call “executive function” is very difficult for me. I can set priorities in my mind; I know that keeping track of my bank balance is more important than raking leaves, yet I don’t “execute” those tasks in that order.

I am going to think and write more about this topic, so stay tuned for updates. For now, let me acknowledge that I have come to realize that I need help (my own version of a 12-step program, perhaps), and I have sought that out. But I also realize that I must take some personal responsibility for doing what I know is important.

I recognized this some time ago, and resolved to do something about it. I came to the understanding that I had always lived an undisciplined life, and I vowed to change that. Yet, it is difficult to change behavior patterns developed over a long lifetime. Still, I know I can do it, and I shall! I call this “no more lilies” and have written this elsewhere:

My philosophy of life was a lot like Alfred E. Newman; “What, me worry?” Or, more elegantly, as expressed in these words from the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

For most of my life, whenever I was feeling down and out (which was often), I would simply remind myself that somehow, things seemed to work out.

More anon!

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  1. […] an earlier post, I recorded an (uncharacteristic) triumph over my bank statements. That victory was short-lived, […]

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