Everything You Need to Know About the Inner Development Goals

I first encountered the Inner Development Goals through a friend, and since then, have been using them as a starting point to create positive, meaningful changes in not just my professional life but all aspects of my life. Despite the name, the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) are not some new-age, self-help manifestation thing — it’s actually a non-profit organization whose mission is to build a more sustainable world and a prosperous future for all humanity. Using the latest scientific and modern research, Inner Development Goals has devised a framework to help effectively navigate some of our time’s most pressing challenges and threats—on the global macro and micro individual level. They focus on how everything from thoughts, patterns of behavior, and developing specific mindsets and skills can help us be proactive in creating positive change.

inner development goals

IDGs are most often employed by organizations, institutions, and businesses. However, as their method focuses on individual action, I believe they are a powerful tool for fostering change in your personal life too. I have found using their approach helps me feel more positive overall, especially as someone who can spiral when thinking about the terrifying state of the planet, humankind, and of course, animal welfare. The IDGs framework of skills has helped me to feel empowered, engage with people in more productive ways, and make better choices—all without destroying my mental health!

This blog is an intro to IDGs and how to work with their essential framework of transformative skills in daily life to support your values, foster your inner growth, and create positive change. As most stuff about IDGs is tailored to organization settings, the focus of this guide to IDGs is how to engage with their philosophy by yourself, on your own terms!

About Inner Development Goals

Inner Development Goals was founded in 2020 by three influential sustainability and environmental organizations: sustainability consultancy The New Division, sustainability non-profit the Ekskäret Foundation, and personal growth app 29k.

The name is a direct reference to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are 17 global initiatives UN Member States are committed to tackling, ranging from eliminating world hunger and reducing inequality to creating sustainable cities and climate action. They are all amazing goals… but not only do some feel like overwhelming challenges, they also can’t be isolated from each other as individual objectives—they are all symptoms of a whole, every component intersecting, but often in complex ways. In addition, if you put the onus on governments, how does this translate to corporate and individual responsibility? These questions and challenges helped spawn the IDGs initiative.

IDGs identify attributes, attitudes, skill sets, and goals that offer a comprehensive plan individuals and companies can take that directly feed into the SDGs. They posit that developing these inner capacities and honing our communication skills are essential for successfully enacting the UN SDGs. Basically, we need change on a truly fundamental level to facilitate societal, social, and global change. The IDGs had put together a research-based framework that identifies the necessary skills needed to comprehend, communicate, and act to address a wide range of issue and the complex, global challenges.


The Inner Development Goals Framework

The heart of the IDGs is their framework of 23 transformational skills and qualities split into five interrelated categories. They consider implementing this framework to be ‘the greatest possible accelerator to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and create a prosperous future for all humanity.’ Some pretty big claims! But their idea is that understanding, working on, and addressing these skills and areas—covering personal development and honing your interpersonal skills—helps to enact the changes that feed directly into the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Although the five categories roughly expand from fostering inner abilities to broader community and organizational changes, the skills they contain are designed in such a way that they complement each other and you can move fluidly across them all. Some of these may challenge your old patterns of behavior or thinking, or be completely new tools and skills you have never encountered before. What I try and remember is that we are works in progress—and I truly believe doing your best, even if you don’t always get it right, helps contribute to a better world.

The IDGs Toolkit report has some helpful questions, which I have included and adapted for each category. They are great journaling prompts and can help you fully understand and apply the principle or skill.

Being – Relationship to Self

The skills and qualities in this category focus on how we relate to our entire being—our thoughts, feelings, and physical body. (There is a lot of overlap with yoga and mindfulness practices here). The emphasis is on building solid inner skills which can have transformative inner and external consequences. It also gets at the idea that if we don’t possess this attributes on a fundamental level, how can we expect to engage effectively with others?

  • Inner Compass: this pertains to your awareness of being and things beyond yourself. Specifically, it means having a sense of responsibility towards others and values that align with creating a broader positive impact.
  • Integrity and Authenticity: these qualities help govern our actions and empower us to act with true agency. 
  • Openness and Learning Mindset: be curious, be willing to change your mind, and stay open so you can learn and grow! Even if what you are learning feels challenging or at odds with your current or previous beliefs.
  • Self-awareness: your yoga and mindfulness will help with this one—be aware of your thoughts and feelings. When uncomfortable and challenging feelings arise, can you self-regulate? 
  • Presence: are you able to be in the present moment? Can you recognize when you are distracted? Can you integrate this into your reactions and relationships with others (and yourself) to help you stay non-judgemental, open, and compassionate? 

As you can see, many of these qualities interact with and build up on each other—for example, presence and openness help develop your inner compass. However, what they all have in common is that they are strongly tied to inner lives and overall state of being.

Questions to develop your Relationship to Self:

Inner Compass: What are your three most important values? In what ways do you want to serve the good of the world?

Integrity and Authenticity: In what situations and why do you stop being yourself? In what situations do you feel challenged to be true to your values and who you want to be?

Openness and Learning Mindset: How do you stay open when you have different values or opinions from someone?

Self-awareness: What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you actively or nurture skills that help to keep you aware of your thoughts, judgements, reactions, and emotions? If so, in what ways?

Presence: What is most alive in you right now? Are you able to name a time you were able to engage with someone in an open, non-judgmental way, even when you felt provoked?

Thinking – Cognitive Skills

This category focuses on assessing and developing cognitive analytical skills, which help to build our understanding of complex issues and ideas, recognize the world as an interconnected whole, and make better decisions as a result! Developing robust cognitive skills are considered a cornerstone of adult development.

  • Critical Thinking: this is our ability to assess information objectively and clearly. Asking questions and trying to clarify where factual statements or ideas have their roots are key parts of critical thinking. It is closely related to Perspective Skills, which addresses how unconscious bias can influence how we, or others, see something.
  • Complexity Awareness: this pertains to how issues may be incredibly complex and include many interrelated aspects. As an idea, it is largely rooted in Systems Thinking, which encourages holistic methodologies for looking at things, as opposed to trying to split the world into isolated parts. 
  • Perspective Skills: this relates to understanding where your own, and others, points of view have come from. Throughout life, we develop ideas that may be full of contradictions, assumptions, and unconscious biases. This is normal. Recognizing these helps lead to better cognitive skills, but identifying them in others is also important. It’s less ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’, but acknowledging how our belief systems are products of our experiences and environments.  
  • Sense-making: this relates to our innate ability to create stories that provide meaning. This is not a bad thing. Instead, IDGs encourage our sense-making tools to align with our larger values.

Long-term Orientation and Visioning: this is the ability to both think in the longer term and broader context but also to keep open, adaptable, and willing to evolve.

Questions to develop your Thinking skills:

Critical Thinking: How do you identify blind spots in your belief system? Do you ever ask inquiring and critical questions to yourself and others?

Complexity Awareness: Are you able to think in terms of ‘both, and’? Do you probe the deeper meaning of issues you are concerned with? e.g. what are the causes and consequences of the issue and how do they interact with other issues?

Perspective Skills: Who has perspectives or beliefs that challenge you deeply? Are you able to make use of contrasting perspectives when navigating challenging issues?

Sense Making: What stories give you meaning? What are the stories you have created about the issues that engage you?

Long-term Orientation and Visioning: What three things are most important to you to consider or address in the next five years? Ten years? 100 years? Do you feel motivated to engage in work that addresses issues that will take a long time to resolve and serve future generations? If not, why?

Relating – Caring for Others and the World

This category focuses on fostering meaningful and caring connections with others—from our direct communities to non-human creatures and the environment. As with the other categories, these qualities of relating all inform upon each other.

  • Appreciation: having an attitude of appreciation towards the beings and places we encounter helps establish a sense of care and gratitude
  • Connectedness: recognizing, acknowledging, and truly feeling how we as individuals are part of broader things—local communities, all of humanity, and the global ecosystem.
  • Humility: recognizing the needs of others over the needs of the self and acting accordingly.
  • Empathy and Compassion: relating to others and situations with these qualities are the foundation of emotional intelligence. 

Questions to develop your Relating skills:

Appreciation: Who has contributed to your success? Do you consciously turn your attention to that which is worthy of appreciation, such as people’s efforts and the beauty of the world?

Connectedness: Who and what would you like to be more involved with? Do you nurture and sustain a keen and deeply felt sense of belonging to and being a part of a much larger whole, such as humanity and the global ecosystem?

Humility: What helps you put the “we” over the “I” when the situation calls for it? Do you sometimes feel more concerned about looking good than you would like to?

Empathy and Compassion: Who and what helps you move into action when you perceive the suffering of others? In what ways do you work on your ability to feel empathy and compassion even towards people who are very different from yourself and who may act in ways you disapprove of?

Collaborating – Social Skills

This section focuses on developing the skillset to be able to articulate and share your concerns and values with others. There is a strong emphasis on leadership development in this category.

  • Communication skills: effective communication balances active, attentive listening and clear articulation of your message. It also includes advocating for yourself when needed, conflict management and resolution, and being able to adapt your communication styles depending on who you are engaging with.
  • Co-creation skills: creating and innovating with others in an effective, safe, and productive way. 
  • Inclusive Mindset and Intercultural Competence: this means both being able to and seeking out a diverse community to collaborate with. It draws across many skills in all the other categories about being open and willing to do things in ways that are different to your own.
  • Trust: being both trustworthy and able to trust others is an essential skill for creating positive collaborative experiences.
  • Mobilization skills: Finding others and organizations that share your beliefs and passions and helping inspire action.

Questions to develop your Collaborating skills:

Communication Skills: What helps you contribute authentically in real, meaningful dialogue? What communication skills would you like to develop further?

Co-creation Skills: How can you hold the tension between shaping and being shaped? How can you become even more creative and constructive in collaborative efforts?

Inclusive Mindset and Intercultural Competence: What helps you include those who think differently? Do you feel that you are willing to make an effort to understand and include

people who have different perspectives from what you are used to?

Trust: How do you consciously build trust? Are you working on your skills in building and maintaining trust in relation to different people?

Mobilization Skills: What do you believe is the best motivation for achieving common goals? Do you attend sufficiently to the task of inviting and energizing other people to work for shared visions?

Acting – Enabling Change

This section focuses on what qualities need cultivating in order to persist and keep acting in line with our beliefs.

  • Courage: Having the courage to stand up for yourself and others, take action, and perhaps challenge others is scary! It’s important to acknowledge that and actively remember to be brave and act in accordance with your values.
  • Creativity: coming up with new, innovative ideas to overcome challenges and disrupt conventional solutions that aren’t working. 
  • Optimism: staying optimistic is an essential—surprisingly hard—skill. It’s crucial for your own wellbeing, but it can also really inspire others.
  • Perseverance: stay committed to your goals, keep going, and be patient even if you encounter setbacks or progress is slow!

Questions to develop your Acting skills:

Courage: When did you last do something daring? What are some situations where you would like to be able to act more courageously?

Creativity: How can you foster more creativity? What can be your specific contribution, considering your own personality, to more creativity in your field of work?

Optimism: What good do you think will happen this century? Do you have the ability to draw your own and others’ attention to hopeful signs and initiatives when it concerns something you want to continue to promote?

Perseverance: What is a major challenge that has helped you to grow? What ideas do you have about how to strengthen our individual and collective ability to sustain engagement and effort over time?

True to its ethos, the Inner Development Goals framework is a project of ongoing development, where skills and attributes may be amended or changed over time. If you are looking for a community to explore the current idgs framework with, I recommend seeking out an IDG hub to find your local idg community. They often have meet-ups which are safe spaces to come together and encounter original ideas like like-minded people focused on global, holistic, and social change!

If you want to take a deeper dive into the organization, I recommend reading the IDGs’ full report. As well as the framework, it covers the origins of IDGs, its founders and affiliated team of international researchers and entrepreneurs, such as Robert Kegan, Amy C. Edmondson, and Jakob Trollbäck, the research behind the science-based skills they identify, and how their work contributes to sustainable change, human development, and addressing the different needs of the global community whilst working towards a common goal of a sustainable future.

I have also found a lot of synergy between the IDGs framework and Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, especially the Yamas and Niyamas.