Direct and Indirect Goals

Direct and Indirect Goals

Focus on what you can control.

This commonly given advice is popular when we feel overwhelmed with our lives. Whether it’s at home, or at work. This happens when challenges and things we want are the decision of others- a boss, a spouse, or in some cases even a child. Everything exerts some kind of control over you, your time, and so your life. This struggle of time and decision centers around our topic for the day- the concept of Direct and Indirect Goals.


The problem with the advice of focusing only on what you can control is it can lead to us feeling like nothing is under our control. Particularly if the things we can’t control are arguably the most important things in our life. Getting a raise, having time for yourself, breaking down the emotional barriers of loved ones. In effect, the advice of focusing seems to be leaving out a critical piece of the puzzle- how to have an effect what you can’t control.

Direct and Indirect Goals


A Direct Goal means no one else has the power to veto your action or choice you make. What you do has an immediate and measurable impact on your life. An Indirect Goal is when your direct actions and decisions, influence the actions and decision making of others. The impact to anything indirect is usually not discernable or measurable.


To firmly establish some common ground, let's look at an example.

Imagine a dart board. The goal is to hit a bullseye. This is a good simplified example of a direct goal. You take direct action - throw the dart. You can see the result of that direct action - where the dart hits. You adjust your throw and try again. You could do this as long as needed to achieve the direct goal, and even have a great time doing it!

Now turn off the lights so it’s pitch black, and try to hit a bullseye. You can throw the dart. You can maybe even hear where the dart lands, but you can’t see how close you are to the bullseye. It's almost impossible to make helpful adjustments. All you can really do is keep throwing where you think the target might be and hope you hit it. This is how it can feel to just ignore the things you don’t have control over. Sounds pretty rough, right? Luckily, this is where indirect goals come in!

Now imagine you are able to turn on a light after each throw. You can see where your last dart landed and line up for the next throw before the light turns off again. It's still harder to hit the bullseye than with the light on, but way more likely than never having any lights. This tactic of “shining a light” on the results, realigning based on what you can see, then retrying is a core concept of how can achieve even if you don't have control.

Note: It takes time and patience to achieve an indirect goal, because any actions or decisions, do not provide an immediate sense of progress- like direct goals do.

Sorting Direct and Indirect Goals

The simple way to discern if something is direct or indirect is to ask yourself:

“Does anyone have the power to void my decisions or choices?”

If the answer is, No. That indicates a direct goal.
If the answer is, Yes. That indicates an indirect goal.

Note: There are times when you can attempt to take direct action on something indirect. The important part of this is to wait for a moment when the direct action you want to take is relevant to the decisions being made. This keeps your request relevant and makes sure that whoever is the decision maker will be more accepting to your request.

Building Indirect Goal Actions

Direct actions to achieve direct goals is the standard way we approach accomplishing things but actions to achieve indirect goals can be a little more tricky. So let’s cover some ideas about what you can do directly to achieve indirect goals. There are three areas to focus on to make sure you are hitting all the necessary marks to achieve direct and indirect goals. Try to figure out what's important to the other decision maker.

What’s important to yourself as the decision maker?
What’s important to someone else as the decision maker?
What’s important to both parties?

Next, make a decision on where you stand with those measurements and definitions. Take anything you fully agree with and implement actions in your day to day that makes these contributions. For anything you might not completely agree with, have a discussion with the decision maker and see if you can come to an agreement on an alternate way to achieve the same result. Do your own research and bring ideas to the table.

If you can’t come to an agreement don’t press the matter, instead provide the decision maker with the results in the way they’ve requested first. Once delivered, you now have the space to try alternatives and see what the results look like. See if you can find an alternative that provides the requested results plus more.

Finally, look at what’s important to you. See if there are adjustments you can make to be more in-line with the decision maker. If there are still things of vital importance to you, but not to the decision maker then carve out time for them after completing what is.

Grab your Journal! 

  1. Examine your goals and discern whether or not they are direct goals or indirect goals.
  2. Figure out what direct actions you can take to influence each indirect goal, do this by having a conversation with the decision maker, what requirements do they have, how do they make decisions?
  3. As you complete tasks and make contributions towards the decision maker’s ideas, examine how you can start integrating your own ideas to show how they can add more value to results.
  4. Finally look for opportunities to engage in the discussion of your goals. Ideally, these are times when the decision maker is already thinking about or is engaged in a similar decision-making process.

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