Guare, R., Guare, C., & Dawson, P. (2019). Smart but scattered--and stalled: 10 steps to help young adults use their executive skills to set goals, make a plan, and successfully leave the nest. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Review by Comfort M. Sumida, University of Hawai'i at Hilo, [email protected]

There are many roadblocks that can cause detours in a student’s academic journey. The difference between a student who perseveres to overcome these challenges and one who becomes stalled, depends on many factors. One such factor is the fit between the goal and the student’s abilities, motivations, and executive skills.

Executive skills guide an individual’s actions and impact the ability to make decisions and set goals; they regulate behaviors (i.e. development of long-range plans, following through) that increase the likelihood of reaching these goals (Guare, Guare, & Dawson, 2019). Deficiencies in executive skills often result in stalled behaviors as individuals are unable to make decisions, act upon, and stick with them. “Executive skills are part of the brain development that takes place over the first 25 or 30 years of life,” with some young adults experiencing “weakness or delays in developing some or all of these skills” (Guare et al., 2019, p. 6). Thus, although most college students are legally adults, they may have not developed the executive skills necessary to engage in the behaviors required to succeed on their own -- academically, financially, and personally.

The newfound freedoms and expectations in college may bring to light deficiencies in areas that were previously unknown to the student. Guare et al (2019) provides the reader with tools to help young adults identify these deficiencies, provide guidance with goal setting and completion, as well as strategies to manage deficient behaviors.

As implied by the title, the book is written with a focus on the parent-child relationship. However, many of the tools presented may be adaptable for use in other settings. The same executive skills deficiencies that prevent a young adult from taking the initial steps in filling out a job application, can become a roadblock when applying to college, selecting a major or career path, or starting on a homework assignment. This book includes narratives that personalize the roadblocks several young adults face as they work towards independence. To illustrate the process that was undertaken by each to identify executive skills deficiencies, set goals, and evaluate progress, several worksheets and prompts are provided.

This content can assist advisors in developing skills within the Relational Component of the Core Competencies, specifically the ability to “Facilitate problem solving, decision-making, meaning-making, planning, and goal setting” (NACADA, 2017a). An advisor’s awareness of the role and impact of these still-developing skills can make their impact on a student’s academic performance evident -- through their ability to manage time, to be organized and flexible, to initiate and follow-through on a task, to tolerate stress, and to respond to demands. A combination of these skills is required to be academically successful.

Knowledge of executive skills and being able to identify deficiencies can help an advisor “motivate, encourage, and support students and the greater educational community to recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality” (NACADA, 2017b), the NACADA Core Value of Empowerment. This book provides concrete methods, ten steps, to help a student to be more aware of potential executive skills deficiencies and to build skills that can help to manage their impacts. The strategies to address deficiencies in areas such as time management, organization, task initiation, and planning, among others, may be of particular relevance.

As academic advisors, we are able to share these strategies with our students and explain how simple changes like reminders, rewards, and adjustments in environment, can have huge impacts on their ability to succeed. As an advisor, we can support our students should they choose to implement these strategies. We can help a student who is feeling defeated and is ready to give up, by explaining a pattern of decisions reflecting possible deficiencies in executive skills, and sharing strategies to end the cycle.

“Recognizing our errors keeps us from slipping backward. But identifying the skills, behaviors, and strategies behind our successes helps us make strides forward” (Guare et al., 2019, p. 239). The book provides steps to aid in this recognition and understanding. As advisors, we can use this knowledge to facilitate these processes for those students who are ready to move forward. These strategies and tools, along with proper support, can help our students to better overcome roadblocks and achieve their own successes.


Guare, R., Guare, C., & Dawson, P. (2019). Smart but scattered--and stalled: 10 steps to help young adults use their executive skills to set goals, make a plan, and successfully leave the nest. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017a). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017b). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx

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