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Social and Emotional Functioning

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Social and Emotional Functioning refers to the ability to develop and apply self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills which enable people to understand and manage their own and others’ emotions in social settings. Optimal functioning allows for individuals to better handle stress, make decisions (emotional and logical), form and sustain positive relationships, explore and engage with the environment, display empathy, feel confident and succeed in school and work environments.

Enhancing Social and Emotional Functioning

Being aware of controllable and non-controllable factors is a good starting place. Controllable factors such as what you eat, how much you sleep, if you exercise and how much, if managed well can greatly improve your ability to self-regulate.  Another concept worth understanding is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how emotions play a role in learning.

Ignite clients work on this skill before every session.  It allows them to choose the appropriate levels of intensity of the physical task and difficulty of the cognitive task to make every session as productive as possible.  We teach coaches how to use this skill in our Ignite 101 course for one on one clients and even groups.

Managing the Controllable Factors

We can gather some very important information surrounding these factors just by talking to the parent, client, teacher, health care professional etc.  You will want to ask some questions that give you information about sleep patterns, stress management strategies already in place, nutritional habits, how often they exercise and if they take time to stretch.


The 6 controllable factors that can hinder or improve cognitive functioning are:

Stress, Nutrition, Sleep, Exercise, Energy Level and Mobility.

On a scale from 1 – 5, we can constantly monitor the effect these factors have on our cognitive performance.


Stress                   1 2 3 4 5       (1 being you are unable to cope, 5 you can take on anything)

Nutrition              1 2 3 4 5        (1 being did not eat, 5 being ate a complete meal including veggies)

Sleep                    1 2 3 4 5       (1 little to no sleep, 5 slept like a baby and feel rested)

Exercise               1 2 3 4 5        (1 rainy day on the couch, 5 haven’t stopped moving)

Mobility               1 2 3 4 5         (1 too sore to think, 5 feeling limber)

Energy Level       1 2 3 4 5        (1 nap time, 5 let’s run 2 miles and wrestle a bear)


If we have a poor sleep the night before, we have to make sure the other factors are as close to perfect in order to maintain balance. Or to prevent a snowball effect of bad things.   Not every day are each one of these factors going to be perfect but the closer they are to 5, the better the chance you will have optimal cognitive functions. When we assign a number to rate our day we’re much more aware of how we’re doing and then have more control over certain circumstances.


Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to access higher order thinking needed to overcome a difficult math problem or complete a challenging 15 minute workout.  The brain’s priority system will allow us to access certain levels, only if the more important levels have been taken care of (per say).  This particular prioritizing system is the same for everyone however management of the higher priority levels differs allowing the individual to gain access to higher order thinking.



Other activities that boost social and emotional functioning:

1.) Meditation or Mindfulness – setting time aside to allow thoughts, any thoughts, to come into consciousness for a brief moment then letting them pass as another one comes along.

2. Yoga or Warrior Yoga

3. Coloring books

4. Answering easy questions, as fast as you can for 3 minutes.

Computation and Calculation

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The ability to select and apply basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems) quickly and accurately require well developed computational skills. Calculating skills then are the techniques and methods in which we carry out these operations using mental methods, paper-and-pencil, and other counting tools to help us arrive at the answer.


Enhancing Computation and Calculation skills

Math continues to be one of those skills perceived as ‘fixed at birth’ and is one of the most avoided brain functions, often outsourced to a calculator or computer.  Like reading, it’s a subject that requires time, patience and perseverance in order to become proficient and even grow to love it.   Those that have well rounded computation and calculation skills spend time using a variety of calculating tools, especially mental methods and expose themselves to a wide variety of problems involving numbers.

Love it or hate it, basic numeracy skills are a vital part to everyday life.  Whether comparing prices, calculating tax, reading a statistic, splitting a pizza between 6 friends or trying to decide if you can jump over that puddle, computing and calculating are life-saving and life changing cognitive skills.

Try this Number Search activity to challenge your computation skills by selecting addition or subtraction to make the equations true.

Work on your calculating skills using a variety of methods, mental, pen and paper, objects, abacus, etc. in this Mixed Operations work sheet from www.math-aids.com

Sensory Processing and Perception

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The five senses – vision, smell, hearing, touch and taste – are the messengers for everything that happens around us. Out of the five, the most valuable to the brain is the visual system.  The visual system occupies over 30% of the brains mass and is the only sense that has an entire lobe dedicated to its functional processing called the occipital lobe.

Enhancing Sensory Processing and Perception

The brain is an amazing machine, capable of overcoming sensory deficiencies like hearing and sight. To enhance each sense, the brain needs to experience new tastes, smells, textures, sights and sounds in a variety of environments.  One can improve sensory memory by purposely limiting one sense (ie limiting sight with a blindfold) and guessing what is making a certain sound, or what object might have that texture.


Try this puzzle from The Playful Brain by Richard Restak and Scott Kim to challenge your ability to imagine sounds created by everyday objects.

SOUND EFFECT                                                                                              SOUND SOURCE

___1. Block of ice sliding on the floor                                                                  a. Balloon

___2. Bone Crushing                                                                                           b. Pen caps floating in glass

___3. Body stabbing                                                                                            c. Luggage cart

___4. Horse’s hooves                                                                                          d. Creaky floor

___5. Brain surgery                                                                                             e. Knife in a watermelon

___6. Dog collar                                                                                                  f. Bowling ball on floor

___7. Clothes rubbing against oneself                                                                g. Newspaper being crunched up

___8. Bicycle                                                                                                       h. Squeaky chair

___9. Rubber gloves                                                                                           i. Wet chamois cloth

___10. Car suspension                                                                                        j. Celery

___11. Boat                                                                                                         k. Set of keys

___12. Fire                                                                                                          l. Leather purse

___13. Ice cubes                                                                                                m. Pillowcase

___14. Car seat                                                                                                   n. Coconut shells

___15. Walking on leaves                                                                                    o. Walking on grass mat

___16. Walking on snow                                                                                      p. Walking on cornstarch

___17. Walking on grass                                                                                     q. Walking on quarter-inch recording tape


Answers to be posted in Sensory Processing and Perception: Part 2



How Adult Coloring Books Improve Cognition

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While in a case conference with a team of experts discussing future therapy goals for a TBI (traumatic brain injury) client, coloring books for adults made its way onto the list. The conversation sparked excitement in the team as we recognized this activity could solve a number of problems we were facing at this stage of therapy.

1.  How can we minimize the amount of hours the client spends out of the home attending different therapies? With 2 small children at home during the summer, this was important for the family.

2.  What activities can the whole family do together that still count as therapy homework?

3. How do we teach this client to relax when the client perceives yoga, meditation and even sleep to be activities that get in the way of their to-do list.

In addition to these goals, we’re always on the look out for fresh, cognitively stimulating activities and research is demonstrating adult coloring books can provide just that.

“The practice generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity”, sites an article published in the Huffington Post.

Beyond Motor Skills, Sensory Processing and Perception and Creativity and Imagination, which are 3 out of 10 Cognitive Domains, other cognitive benefits can include Attention, Logic, Organization and Planning, Motivation, and Social and Emotional Functioning.

A recent article published in the New Yorker, outlines some other interesting applications for adult coloring books, from enrichment to “preventing murders”.

Go here to print off some very cool coloring sheets





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This is one of the most complex processes in the brain because it involves many different parts of the brain.  We can break memory down into three responsibilities; 1. Absorption of information 2. Storage of information and 3. Retrieval of information.

Absorbing and then storing information is called “encoding” which calls upon the brain’s pattern recognition system to identify the stimulus then classify it.  The third responsibility, retrieval, operates on three different time lines; immediate recall (a few seconds), delayed recall, (minutes or hours) and finally remote memory (years).

Enhancing Memory

Play around with different memory techniques such as Story retell, Person Action Object and Memory Palace, using a variety of stimuli (words, numbers, pictures, names and faces or a deck of cards).  Practice memory retrieval without cues to strengthen memory.  For example a common studying strategy is to read a page of notes over and over until it feels familiar.  This gives the brain a false sense of owning the knowledge because the brain has learned to predict what comes next while reading.  So when called upon to produce the information on that page of notes without a visual cue, the brain is lost (for most individuals).  Retrieving information that hasn’t been stored through ‘free recall’ practice is like trying to find your keys when someone else has put them away.

Memorizing digits of Pi


Numbers themselves carry little meaning however meaning can be given to numbers so that they are easier to understand.

Try chunking this long string of numbers into meaningful images.  For example the first 5 digits can be looked at as a pattern 31415, so give that pattern a name.  Try using dates (ie 92 was the year you got married) or an athlete’s numbers (ie. 35 is Justin Verlander). Think of hotel room numbers you have stayed in, the price of a significant purchase, an address, or a phone number. The more detailed the abstract, the more emotions attached to it, the easier it will be to retrieve.  Once you have broken down 54 digits of Pi into 10,15 or 20 meaningful images, the next step is to practice associating your meaningful images to their corresponding digits.  Caution, the more items you have the more demanding it will be to keep them all in order!

Your task is to be able to recall all 54 digits after a 2 minute delay.  Keep a log of your encoding sessions (record which numbers, on what day and how long you spent turning chunks into meaning) and your retrieval sessions (record the number of attempts and the number of digits you were able to successfully recall after a 2 minute delay).

Here’s an example of a training log for this activity:

Day 1 Sequence – 314159265

Encoding time: 8 minutes

Retrieval after 2 minute delay: 9 digits after 4 attempts


Day 2 Sequence – 314159265  358979323

Encoding time: 7 minutes

Retrieval after 2 minute delay: 18 digits after 6 attempts.


Complete an intense combination of exercises during the 2 minute delay for even more brain benefits!

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Logic, Organization and Planning

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Logic, Organization and Planning are referred to as “higher order” brain functions which means they are dependent on other processes to be effective. Organization for instance relies on working memory to juggle multiple pieces of information while trying to place them in a specified order.  All three functions have to work together to carry out definitive actions in response to specific situations.

It’s logical for a grocery store to organize similar foods in one aisle to help shoppers plan their route and get all the items on the list.  Like an organized grocery store, finely tuned higher order functions improve the decision making process by decreasing the time it takes to retrieve relevant information and to come to an accurate conclusion based on the appropriate type of thinking for the situation, either emotional or logical.

Enhancing Logic, Organization and Planning

Invest your time in creating systematic procedures before starting any project or task.  Chunking a large project into smaller more manageable pieces is a valuable approach and can decrease the stress that often comes with feeling overwhelmed by the size of a task.  One of the most widely used and effective procedural systems is the Scientific Method. A problem doesn’t have to be a science experiment for this procedure to be used.

1.) Ask a question. When you become skilled with the Scientific Method you’ll know how to ask the RIGHT questions.

2.) Do a background search.  A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  Look out for ‘sexy’ facts and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.

3.) Construct a hypothesis. This is your action statement, keep it simple and clear.

4.) Experiment. Play around but above all see your experiment through to the end before making an evaluation.  

5.) Reflect on the findings. Immature minds use a pass/fail evaluation.  (I can do a pull up or I can’t do a pull up.)  Be a mature thinker and search for bright spots, lagging skills and next steps.

Try the following logic, organization and planning puzzles

For kids

Test yourself


Your Attention, Please!

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Our brains are capable of carrying out a number of attention tasks and are shaped by environmental and developmental factors.  When developmental factors such as motivation, past/prior experiences and current knowledge base interact with different environmental situations our brains begin to adapt by strengthening the attention skills used most often. Simply put, how we spend our days shapes what we pay attention to and how efficiently these processes function.

Attention has two degrees “passive” (daydreaming in class) and “active” (when a teacher calls our name) and can be broken down into five types:

Normal: the act of being engaged and focused on a single task.

Selective: the act of being engaged and focused on a single task while blocking out some other stimuli.

Divided: the act of performing multiple tasks simultaneously, one passive and other active. Ie. Doing homework (active) while the television is on (passive).

Alternating: the act of shifting attention that pique interest during two separate tasks requiring active attention, happening at the same time. Ie. Overhearing a conversation while reading a book.

Concentration: the sustained act of being engaged and focused on a single task over a certain amount of time.


Enhancing Attention

Being able to recognize and then predict what attention skills will be needed to complete a task efficiently are the first steps to enhancing concentration, focus and attention.  From there it’s all about practice through play.

Try out the following Attention Puzzles for time.  Puzzles 1 and 2 will challenge alternating attention because it requires you to shift between letters and numbers.  Starting at A draw a line to number 1, then from 1 to B and so on.  Puzzles 3 and 4 will challenge alternating and selective attention by having to block out random symbols that are not relevant to the trail.  Finally, Puzzle 5 will challenge a combination of all types of attention. Complete this grid by writing the coordinates beside each letter (A = R7,C4)

*Complete these puzzles after each round of a short and intense workout for maximum brain benefits!




Today’s BrainWOD: 071515

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The Tabata Protocol means doing 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. It’s usually done for 8 rounds. CrossFit workouts include “Tabata This” and “Tabata That.”

In “Tabata Talking,” instructors draw a random noun, and students talk about the noun for 20 seconds nonstop. Then they take a 10 second break to gather their thoughts before the next interval. If a student can’t fill the full 20 second interval, they move immediately to the next exercise group.

Exercise Group: Tabata Squats (max squats in 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest, 8 rounds.)

Talking Group: Draw a noun (max talking in 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest, up to 8 rounds.)

Exercise Group: Tabata Pushups (max pushups in 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest, 8 rounds.)

Talking Group: Draw a noun

Exercise Group: Tabata jumping jacks

Talking Group: Draw a noun

Exercise Group: Tabata Situps

Talking Group: Draw a noun.

The objective is to complete all 32 ‘talking’ rounds.

Today’s BrainWOD: “Brain Gone Bad”

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Warmup: 20 reps for time of:


Then, “Brain Gone Bad”:

Spend exactly one minute at each station before moving to the next.

Rest exactly one minute between rounds.

Perform 3 rounds for maximum points.

Station 1: Memory Cards (one minute to memorize)

Station 2: Addition Worksheet

Station 3: Subtraction Worksheet

Station 4: Word Search Worksheet

Station 5: Memory Cards – one minute to recall cards (any order.)

Worksheets can be drawn from anywhere. This is one good resource.

The Ignite NeuroMotive Coach Certification in El Paso on Saturday is almost full! You can register for both the live course and the Online course by clicking here.

Ignite BrainWODs are comprised of 7 phases (the Ignite 7 Steps.) The above can be used on its own for a fun challenge, or incorporated into the 7 Steps for optimal benefit.

The Ignite 7 Steps are outlined in Enrichment Through Exercise, and taught in our NeuroMotive Coach Certifications. 

Today’s BrainWOD: “Rainbow Shuttle”

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Behind a visual barrier, arrange three cones of differing colors.

Set one cone of each color at 10m, 20m and 30m from the visual barrier.

Athlete races to the first set of cones, and guesses at the correct order to match the hidden pattern behind the visual barrier. Then they race back to the coach, who tells them how many they have correct.

The athlete races to the second set of cones and makes a more educated guess at the correct arrangement of cones. They sprint back to the coach and are told how many they have correct.

If necessary, they take their final chance on the third set of cones.

To make the challenge more difficult:

  • increase the distance between cones
  • increase the number of colors to four or five
  • remove previous attempts from eyesight (athlete has to recall previous attempts)

To make the challenge easier:

  • decrease the distance between cones
  • use only two colors with three cones (two red and one yellow, for example)

The purpose of this exercise is to plan for failure: few will make correct guesses on the first attempt. The key is for the athlete to learn that failure is expected and critical to eventual success as long as lessons are learned from each attempt.

Ignite BrainWODs are comprised of 7 phases (the Ignite 7 Steps.) Warmups, focus drills, pre-CrossFit Kids workouts and anchoring activities precede and follow this challenge for optimal benefit.

The Ignite 7 Steps are outlined in Enrichment Through Exercise, and taught in our NeuroMotive Coach Certifications.