Andrea Azzola

Tips and Techniques for Lifestyle Design

The Goalodicy Trap

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The Goalodicy

The goalodicy is the obsession in pursuing a goal, a compulsion such that the individual often ignores its own context. The term, coined by D. Christopher Kayes of the University of Washington, is a merge of the English words goal and theodicy, which etymology suggests a similarity to "divine justice" in Greek. Another common term for goalicity is goal-blindness

The Everest Disaster

In May 1996, 34 climbers departed to the conquest of Mount Everest, the planet highest summit. The team was preparing at field IV, 7900 meters of altitude, the last checkpoint before the final goal at 8848 meters.

But the latest vertical meters are the most difficult—nicknamed "death zone", where severe weather conditions can strike suddenly, that climbers face with a limited number of oxygen tanks. A mishap can make the difference between life and death, coordination and teamwork are therefore essential.

On day 26, the New Zealand and the American teams departed for the last ascent. The Taiwanese team also departs, without appropriate notice, maybe due to a misunderstanding or a last-minute quarrel. A bottleneck forms at the Hillary Step, a leap of rock of about 10 meters, causing a two hours delay to the teams, such that the point of no return for the oxygen passes.

The climbers successfully reach the top. At come back time, they're caught by a sudden storm. Weakened muscles and adverse weather conditions make it for an impossible descent, as well as for any rescue operation. Eight people died that day.

The whole story is narrated in great detail in Jon Krakauer's assay "Into Thin Air", the author took part in the expedition. The book was also made into a movie, Everest (2015), which I recommend.

The Lesson

According to the D. Kayes analysis, passion in pursuing an objective can become an obsession and lead to disaster, a real destructive goal as the doctor puts it in the omonimous book. While passion is therefore characterized by awareness of context and focused on the pleasure of doing, the obsession is blind.

This condition can be favored by many factors:

  1. Limiting goals: climb the Everest without focus on a safe comeback;
  2. Social expectations: the group pressure;
  3. Idealization: romantic notion and the seeking for identity in success;
  4. Stress: impairment of rational thought in favor to emotion;
  5. Leadership: unconditional acceptance of other people choices.

Life & Work

In recent years we have witnessed a growth in the practice of goal setting, a science that was born to support the planning and the achievement of goals. Goal setting could be seen as a project management reinterpretation but oriented to the individual.

In goal setting studies the psychological component is often placed in second place, as a result goals set by individuals can be badly designed and misaligned with a bigger goal for life quality improvement. This can lead to loss of motivation or, on the opposite side to a blind compulsion to reach a dangerous goal, as the Everest teaches us.

It become fundamental to introduce and repeat introspection for situational awareness in ragards to the outcome, accept uncertainty in which the ability to respond, hides the true enrichment.


Before establishing a goal, a preliminary torough examination is required, as a first repair from ill-conceived and potentially harmful goals. The SMART criteria comes in aid. Goals that does not meet these criteria should be discarded or at least weighted. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: focused on a specific aspect
  • Measurable: quantifiable, both in terms of execution and progress
  • Assignable: who would do it
  • Realistic: realistic given the available resources
  • Time-related: temporally bounded both terms of milestones and deadlines

Leverage fantasy, creativity and awareness. Constantly scan for priorities. Remeber to be individualist, essentialist and rational to establish true, useful and consisteng goals.

But especially be aware and self-examine in regard to the risk of goalodicy.