Working Memory and Inhibition

executive function management adhd

In our ADHD Sweet Spot membership we are spending a few months breaking down the six main executive functions: working memory, inhibition, self-motivation, emotional regulation, planning / problem-solving, and self-awareness.  This blog post will tackle the first two executive functions on this list.

Working Memory

Working memory is a critical cognitive function, and its challenges often go hand in hand with ADHD. 


Working memory serves as your temporary storage system for information, a bit like a mental sticky note. It plays an integral role in many aspects of your life, such as sustaining attention, staying on track with tasks, completing activities, and managing time. It even aids in maintaining a train of thought during conversations or handling mental tasks like writing reports or solving complex problems.

It might be helpful to picture working memory as having two aspects. There is verbal working memory (also called the phonological loop, or your mind’s voice) and non-verbal working memory (also called the visual sketchpad or your mind’s eye).
If you notice your memory is a bit glitchy, the best advice is to actively compensate using verbal or visual strategies. Writing a list of tasks down is a classic visual strategy, and it makes the “remembering” external rather than internal. If your internal memory is glitchy, why rely on it? You can also repeat a list of reminders to yourself (out loud is best!). I do this when I’m driving home and I have to remember something when I walk in the door.
Now while improving working memory can be challenging, there are strategies to build, scaffold, and accommodate this essential skill. You can:
  • Actively use memory strategies (like memorising times tables), but this will only build memory for those specific things.
  • Use routines, habits, and prompts to reduce reliance on working memory – like keeping a jug of water at your desk to remind you to drink it during the day
  • Use checklists and reminders to compensate for working memory limitations


Inhibition seriously impacts daily life.  Generally speaking, inhibition is the ability to control attention, behaviour, thoughts and emotions, and overriding impulses in response to internal or external stimuli.  Did you know it is the under-activity in your prefrontal cortex that makes inhibition such a challenge?

What does this mean for your life?  Impulsive behaviours and difficulties with self control, of course!  A lack of inhibition can result in impulsive actions, from starting tasks without adequate time to impulsively eating or shopping.  Does this sound familiar?!

Now managing inhibition challenges may not be easy, but it’s not impossible either.  You can use a range of strategies and accommodations to make your life easier.  You can:
  • Identify trouble areas and implement barriers or hurdles to create thinking time – like the idea of waiting a day or two before clicking “order” on an online shopping site
  • Develop habitual responses that buy you a couple of seconds of thinking time – try saying “hmmm, let me think about that”
  • Use medication to increase inhibition (there is evidence supporting this)
  • Create systems that cushion the impact of impulsivity, like having a low limit on a debit card
  • Learn to apologise if needed, without spiralling into shame

How to make changes

The best way you can achieve any of these changes is in a safe, supportive, and accountable space.  When you have hands on support planning and implementing your lifestyle changes, you will have far more success.  And that is exactly what the ADHD Sweet Spot membership offers.  We meet three times a week for coaching and executive function training to make sure that all the incredible content we learn actually gets implemented!  Click here to find out more.

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More To Explore

Planning & Problem Solving

Planning and problem-solving is the final category of executive function we explored in the ADHD Sweet Spot membership.  Conceptually, planning and problem-solving equate to mental play.  It’s about juggling the

Self Awareness

Self awareness is the ability to understand your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.  It is a key executive functioning skill. In fact, some would argue it is foundational to all the others. When we are aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and motivations, we are better able to control our impulses and make choices that are in our best interests.

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