Process, Outcome, and Performance Goals in Neurofeedback

Process Goals

            A process goal involves a client focusing on mastering one aspect of a performance. These goals are useful because they are within the person’s control and allow for the person to work towards mastering a performance by building on previously mastered skills. For example, golfers trying to perfect their swing may focus solely on following through after each swing, rather than trying to perfect each aspect of the swing at once. Neurofeedback clients trying to master meditation, a commonly used skill during neurofeedback training, may start by working on perfecting their breathing. Once breathing is mastered, they can shift focus to keeping their heads clear by using thought-stopping cues. Personal experience has indicated that people tend to try and learn every aspect of a performance all at once, which can lead to poor technique. Process goals allow clients to break down a complicated skill like meditation into different skills like breathing, thought stopping, and mindfulness so they can master each aspect at their own pace. Thinking back to the blog on SMART goals, achieving goals builds more confidence and keeps people motivated to keep growing (Williams, 2014). Trying to rush the learning process by focusing on everything may cause someone to fail or lose motivation.

Outcome Goals

            Outcome goals involve people comparing their performances to other people’s performances. For example, a swimmer may want to beat a rival’s best time, which would be an outcome goal. In the sports world, many people promote outcome goals due to the competitive environment, and the fact that there are often real opponents. However, outcome goals also get a bad reputation as many coaches and athletes will say that they should not focus on other people. Both can be true! Outcome goals can help to motivate people like rivalries motivate athletes. There have been neurofeedback clients that support each other through competition. When kept in proper perspective, outcome goals can be a great tool.

            Personally, it appears that outcome goals are the most common measures of growth used by neurofeedback clients. While many will say they want to feel better; they tend to base “better” on other people’s lives. Using outcome measures without proper perspective can be harmful, as people have individualistic needs and grow at different rates.

            Overall, outcome goals can be effective tools for neurofeedback clinicians when used properly. To be used properly, clients should be continuously prompted to focus on things they can control. This is where performance goals can be helpful.

Performance Goals

            Performance goals involve people trying to perform better than they did previously. For example, a golfer trying to shoot lower than the previous score would set a performance goal. Performance goals have often been viewed as the most effective goals as they help people stay focused on things within their control. Performance goals are a personal favorite as they allow clients to measure their progress from session to session without having to compare progress to anyone else. While performance goals are a personal favorite, it is recommended that clients have a blend of process, outcome, and performance goals.

Effective Blending of Goals

            People come to neurofeedback treatment because they feel like they are not thinking, feeling, or behaving the way they want. They set goals to feel better, have better thoughts, or to stop being overly reactive. Often, clinicians will have people set goals to help with intrapersonal, interpersonal, and occupational/academic functioning. When working on these goals, personal experience has shown that people often judge their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors based on their perceptions of other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Many clients will have examples of people they want to be more like and will set outcome goals based on these perceived achievements (e.g. social life, finances, beliefs about self, etc.). These goals are helpful to motivate clients, but they may also cause a person to rush the process. Performance and process goals can be useful in these moments as the clinician can help the client take aspects of the outcome goals and identify things within the person’s control. From there, the clinician and client can identify things to work on to make the current session better than the last.

Example of an Effective Blending of Process, Outcome, and Performance Goals

            A client comes to neurofeedback because the person wants to be more successful at work. The person sees an undeserving coworker getting promoted and wants to be more appreciated and better compensated. An outcome goal involves the client making more money than the coworker. While this may motivate the client, the idea of making more money than the person can be reinterpreted in a way that directs the client’s focus to things within the person’s control, which can be used to create a performance goal. The client can be encouraged to create a goal involving an increase in personal production or an increase in effective communication of wants to superiors. This way the outcome of the goal is within the person’s control. From there, process goals can be made to help the person improve production or communication. For example, the client can focus on creating a weekly schedule to identify more time to dedicate to work, or the person could work on controlling breathing when communicating with superiors.

            The current scenario involves a client wanting to be more compensated than a coworker (outcome goal). Clinician was able to reframe the goal into a performance goal involving client increasing production and improving communication with superiors. Client and clinician then created process goals to help client achieve the performance goals (i.e. scheduling and breathing). Overall, an effective neurofeedback clinician utilizes all three types of goals in treatment.


Weinberg, R., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Williams, J. (2014). Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Publisher.

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