Executive Functions are a set of skills that are essential for mindful, attentional, goal-directed behavior. They have been called a “cognitive toolkit for success”. Neuroscientists recognize that there are three core executive functions: (i) Inhibitory Control—being able to think before you act and resist distractions, (ii) Cognitive Flexibility—thinking outside the box, conceiving of problems in new ways from different perspectives, coming up with alternative solutions to problems, and quickly adapting to take advantage of sudden opportunities, and (iii) Working Memory—the ability to mentally manipulate information, play with ideas in your mind, and creatively see connections between seemingly unrelated things. Renowned cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Adele Diamond has referred to executive functions as shorthand for the skills to be successful in school, college, work and relationships.


Emotional Intelligence can be thought of as being intelligent about your feelings. Using emotions wisely helps us to thrive, we make sounder decisions, focus on important tasks, enjoy healthier relationships, and manage stress better. Emotional intelligence skills can help to reinforce executive function skills.


Mindfulness, a term coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn* to mean “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,” can be applied to our thoughts, senses, and emotions. Practicing mindfulness can give you the ability to pause a moment before responding rashly, thereby accessing your emotional intelligence skills to respond in a more beneficial way. It is said that mindfulness and “heartfulness”―or loving kindness and gratitude―complete each other. Combining both can help relieve you of emotional burdens and bring positive emotions into your life. Research in neuroscience has shown that mindfulness practice develops the brain in ways supportive of reducing stress and improving executive functions and executive control. In mentoring Mindfulness, we draw both on our learning experiences and the curriculum of Mindfulschools.org.*


Grit is a concept popularized by noted University of Pennsylvania psychologist Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth* to refer to the tendency to pursue long-term goals with sustained zeal and hard work. Being a “gritty” individual has been shown to be a more predictive determinant of success than IQ. As part of Peak Year’s experimental approach to helping students become grittier, we intertwine long-term relationships with mentors and a menu of academic and non-academic subjects taught by mentors in a particular way. In this design, students’ stepwise learning and success requires them to readjust to new complexity, find balance, and grow more determined and gritty in the process.


Flow is a state of mind in which an individual is so fully absorbed in a task that the task and person become one. To visualize the Flow State, think of Golden State Warrior basketball wizard Steph Curry in his zone, unguardable, shooting twenty swishes from 40 feet out, or Maestro Itzhak Perlman rapturously fused with his violin, at one with and inseparable from the music he is creating. The concept of Flow was developed by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,* who has noted that it arises when we find a balance between our skills and the challenges we face. Flow can be thought of as the highest state of emotional intelligence.


Design Thinking is a way of navigating the world inspired by the notion that everything around us is designed in some way, shape or form, and that every person has the ability to demonstrate creativity in solving problems. A mindset with people at its core, Design Thinking combines the analytic, logical, concrete and linear with the intuitive, emotional, spatial and visual to find unexpected solutions to problems. The field was inspired in part by research conducted by Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon*, who wrote, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Today, some of the most innovative individuals and corporations practice Design Thinking.

*References to particular authors, papers and links to websites (collectively “published sources”) contained in the Peak Year website are for convenience only and the information therein is solely that provided by the cited source. Peak Year is not responsible for the information or other materials of any such published sources or linked site and inclusion does not imply Peak Year’s adoption or approval of any published source’s materials other than to identify the concept for which it is cited. Peak Year’s references to such published sources and inclusion of any link does not imply or represent Peak Year’s endorsement of that published source or the information therein, nor any endorsement of Peak Year by that published source or any affiliation of it with Peak Year.