The Unachievable Goal Paradox

What is The Unachievable Goal Paradox?

Think about setting a goal for yourself, something you really want to achieve. Now, imagine if that goal was something you could never actually accomplish, no matter how hard you tried. That’s what we call the Unachievable Goal Paradox. It’s when you have a goal that sounds good, but is set up in a way that makes reaching it impossible.

For example, if you wanted to be absolutely perfect at everything you do. The problem is, being perfect means you can’t make any mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes sometimes. So, aiming for perfection sets you up for a goal you can’t ever really achieve. This creates a tricky situation: the more you work towards that perfect goal, the more you realize it’s out of reach.

Definitions of the Unachievable Goal Paradox

First Definition: The Unachievable Goal Paradox happens when you have a goal that seems nice to reach but is set up in a way that, ironically, trying to achieve it makes it unachievable. It’s like wanting to catch a shadow; you can get closer, but you can’t grab it because it keeps moving with you.

Second Definition: This paradox also happens when you want something that contradicts itself. Let’s say you want to become the most humble person in the world. The closer you get to being super humble, the more you would have to admit to yourself that you’re great at being humble. But bragging about being humble isn’t very humble, right? So the goal itself makes sure you can’t reach it.

Key Arguments

  • The Nature of Progress: This talks about whether it’s worth it to try for a goal you can never reach. Can you really call it progress if the goal is impossible? It’s like walking towards the horizon; no matter how far you walk, you can’t reach it.
  • The Motivation Behind Goals: This asks why we set impossible goals in the first place. Do we get something out of just trying, even if we know we can’t succeed? Maybe it’s about the journey, not the destination.
  • Contradiction in Goals: Some goals fight against themselves. Like the idea of knowing everything. We can’t because there’s always something new to learn, and our brains have limits.
  • Distinguishing Impossible from Difficult: It’s important to know the difference between what’s really unachievable and what’s just very hard to do. Getting totally perfect at something may be unachievable, but getting a lot better at it is doable with effort and persistence.

Answer or Resolution

To deal with this paradox, some thinkers say that trying for the unachievable is valuable in itself. Maybe you won’t reach perfect justice, but trying for it can make things better for everyone a little at a time. And if we change how we think about our goals, like striving to be ‘as humble as possible’ instead of completely humble, we can make progress without getting stuck in the paradox.

Major Criticism

Some people argue about how helpful it is to even talk about unachievable goals. They say if we label a goal as unachievable, it might stop us from trying to do really great things. It could make us lazy, always settling for less. There’s also the problem of confusing really hard-to-reach goals with truly unachievable ones, which might underestimate what we’re capable of.

Practical Applications

  • In education and personal development, knowing about this paradox can help us set goals that are high but possible, saving us from feeling upset or burnt out.
  • For organizations and businesses, it keeps us from chasing what can’t be done, so we use our time and money better.
  • In philosophy and ethics, it helps us talk about why we do things, what progress means, and our limits, which can guide us to make better choices.


  • Trying to make a ‘completely safe’ environment is an example because true absolute safety is impossible. No matter how careful you are, there’s always something that could go wrong that you didn’t expect.
  • Going for ‘total knowledge’ in science isn’t possible because science is always finding out new things. It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a bucket.

Related Topics

  • Perfectionism: This is when you want everything to be perfect. Understanding the Unachievable Goal Paradox shows why being a perfectionist can sometimes be more stressful than it’s worth.
  • Idealism vs. Realism: Idealists dream of perfect worlds while realists focus on what’s actually possible. This paradox lies at the heart of their differences.
  • Sisyphean Tasks: These are jobs that never end, like the myth of Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill forever. It’s another way of thinking about unachievable goals.


The Unachievable Goal Paradox makes us think hard about what we shoot for in life. It shows the boundaries of what we can do and asks us to be smart about our dreams. The paradox challenges us to enjoy the journey towards our goals, even if we can’t reach them all. Even though some goals may be beyond our reach, trying for them can still make us better and help move society forward. Remember, it’s as much about the trying as it is about the final result.