How Setting Clear Goals Can Help Put You in the Flow

By Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

In The ZoneAs you already know, clear goals are one of the three requirements of flow. But clear goals also promote flow. When we know exactly what is expected of us, not only can we measure progress, we can also assess our level of mastery. If, for example, the goal is to shoot a free throw shot, with each shot we throw we will know whether or not we have met our goal. Further, we will know where we are in relation to meeting our goal. A ball that flies past the backboard is clearly nowhere near the target. A ball that hits the rim, on the other hand, is very close to becoming a ball that goes in the basket. It is this kind of knowledge that makes clear goals the foundation of mastery. And as mastery is an integral part of motivation, knowing we are close to reaching our target sets in motion the drive to keep practicing until we reach it.

So how do you help your clients make their goals more clear?

First, they should be measurable. While its fine for your client to say that they would like to be a nicer person, and it is a worthy goal, there is no way to measure it. Niceness is simply too subjective. What one person considers nice, another may consider neutral, or even self-serving. However, if your client wanted to be nicer, they could set goals like: say thank you ten times in one day; open a door for at least three people in a day; do five acts of service for others; or schedule fifteen minutes a day to tell one person how much you appreciate them. With goals like this, it is not hard for you and your client to determine whether or not they have reached them, as well as just how close they are.

Goals should also be time oriented. Much like the example above, a goal to thank ten people at some point in the future is impossible to measure. But adding a time limit to goals does make them measurable. Your client can very easily determine if they have thanked ten people in a day, opened the door for three people in one week, etc. Time limits not only keep goals clear, but they create a boundary between where your client is, and where they would like to be (goal attainment). It is this recognition – that your client is not where they want to be – that inspires the challenge that goals offer; to become a better version of themselves.

Lastly, goals should be attainable. For example, a goal to run a marathon in two weeks is certainly measurable and time oriented, but for a client who has not been training, probably not very attainable (without some serious pain). On the other hand, this might be a perfect goal for a client who regularly clocks twenty-mile runs. The reason attainability matters is because when goals are attainable they provide a glimmer of possibility. While your client may have to struggle to reach them, they appear just possible enough that they will give it a try. As you will remember, one of the conditions of flow is that we experience a balance between our perception of our skills and our perception of the challenge in front of us. Feeling that the goal is possible (with some hard work) means that we got the balance right.

Clear goals, like these above, not only give your client direction, but provide a window of opportunity – a glimpse into just what they are capable of – that when acted upon, comes with some pretty hefty rewards. Not only does your client’s sense of mastery flourish when they have goals with which they can measure progress, but there is a very powerful neurochemical reward to reaching goals. Accomplishing challenging tasks increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. And this potent neurochemical cocktail not only boosts your client’s mood – they are likely to feel euphoric, energized, alive, and hyperfocused – but also turns on the drivers of motivation and flow, making them want to take on more challenges and accomplish more goals.

Related Online Continuing Education Courses

This course will explore the concept of flow, also known as optimal performance, which is a condition we are all capable of, yet seldom cultivate. When in flow we experience a profound and dramatic shift in the way we experience ourselves, our capabilities, and the world around us. Our focus sharpens, our strengths are heightened, we feel an intense sense of euphoria and connection to the world around us, and we often realize capabilities we didn’t know were possible. For clients, flow doesn’t just help them become more capable, it dramatically improves their lives – teaching them not just to expect more from themselves, but how to cultivate the very conditions that make expecting more possible. This course, packed with exercises, tips, and tools, will demonstrate just how flow can be incorporated into your everyday life, and used to help your clients move from simply surviving to a life that harnesses and builds upon their own unique potential to thrive.
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Should therapists and counselors use humor as a therapeutic technique? If so, should they be formally trained in those procedures before their implementation? The paucity of rigorous empirical research on the effectiveness of this form of clinical intervention is exceeded only by the absence of any training for those practitioners interested in applying humor techniques. In this course a representative sample of its many advocates’ recommendations to incorporate humor in the practice of psychological therapies is reviewed.

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Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that exposes the many thought errors that confound the problem of weight loss and demonstrates how when we use behavioral strategies – known as commitment devices – we change the game of weight loss.

While obesity is arguable the largest health problem our nation faces today, it is not a problem that is exclusive to those who suffer weight gain. For therapists and counselors who work with those who wish to lose weight, there is ample information about diet and exercise; however, one very large problem remains. How do therapists get their clients to use this information? Packed with exercises therapists can use with their clients to increase self-control, resist impulses, improve decision making and harness accountability, this course will not just provide therapists with the tools they need to help their clients change the way they think about weight loss, but ultimately, the outcome they arrive at.


Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. Our purpose is to provide high quality online continuing education (CE) courses on topics relevant to members of the healthcare professions we serve. We strive to keep our carbon footprint small by being completely paperless, allowing telecommuting, recycling, using energy-efficient lights and powering off electronics when not in use. We provide online CE courses to allow our colleagues to earn credits from the comfort of their own home or office so we can all be as green as possible (no paper, no shipping or handling, no travel expenses, etc.). Sustainability isn’t part of our work – it’s a guiding influence for all of our work.

We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within one week of completion).