Psychological limitation is arguably more important than any realism the world may throw at us. A logical way to understand our own limitations and how to overcome them.


I saw a child - about 7 years old - jumping from platform to platform atop a statue that was about 5 men high (pictured). He was hopping fearlessly from one part to another.

There were no stairs to the top of that statue, and he and his brother were so small that it was difficult to imagine how they got up there in the first place.

His father cautioned to them, “hop down or you’ll break your neck!” And with that height, to be honest, that was a very real possibility. Not only did the child not come down, but he helped his brother up onto the statue too - they’d propped their scooter upside down to use the apex of it as a small step, which was an ingenious way to compensate for their lack of actual tallness.

So his Dad resigned. I went up to the Dad and said, “are these your children?” He'd resigned to the fact that they were, took out a phone, and said “may as well get a picture.” So there they were, two brothers on top of an art piece not meant for climbing, in a place that people weren't supposed to reach.

But there was nothing in particular about this statue that meant one couldn't climb it; you would take one glance at it and say, “this wasn't meant to be climbed”. But, that was an interpretation made through the lens of the experience of living in this world.

In the book A Beginner’s Mind, a Zen classic, the most famous quote is: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” This quote is often misused to praise competence in knowledge and experience — a doctor who can nail a precise diagnosis for a patient’s presenting problem, for example. But if you read the actual chapter, the real point of this quote is to illustrate that those who have practiced Zen for many years have many preconceptions about what it is, means, and how it should be practiced — and that the beginner is paradoxically more equipped to learn, because they have no preconceived notions about it and are therefore more open to new knowledge.

Watching this child leap dangerously made me think: is limitation purely in the mind? If you read the pseudoscience book The Secret, this is a book that suggests that wishing and hoping and believing the universe will bring things to you will actually bring things to you. Which is obviously nonsense, at the very least in the sense that that desire directly causes your reward to magically appear out of nowhere.

So, we start off with the notion that limitations are first bound by reality. If it's not physically possible, then that's it — it's impossible for me to go backwards in time, for example. To believe in something other than an objective reality would simply result in futile efforts towards changing something that can't be changed.

However, perceived reality and actual reality are two vastly different things. Apart from those things bound by physics, technically anything else is fair game. Even trusting the widely spread opinion of “reliable” humans doesn't count as a true reality. Today, I walked outside with a forecast of not 50%, 20%, 10%, but 0% chance of rain...but it rained anyway.

So the limitations from the biggest subset to the smallest, are:

  • Reality limitation: you can't go beyond this.
  • Then one of:
  • Psychological limitation: self defined.
  • Resource limitation: how much resource (tike, effort, intelligence, money, people, whatever) can be thrown at the problem?

I think the most important one of these is psychological limitation, because I propose that for most of us, there is a huge discrepancy between reality limitation and psychological limitation. And that’s the problem with experience: psychological limitations become real limitations, just like the analogy where the chained elephant is released but refuses to walk anywhere because the chain prevented it from doing so in the past.

When someone’s dreams are a complete fantasy - perhaps based off unrealistic notions of success - these are not actually necessarily reality limitations (as one might think) but resource limitations. You might genuinely be able to invent a lightsaber in 10 days - it's likely physically possible - but there's no way you could muster up the engineering feats and talent and raw resources to be able to realistically pull it off.

The antidote

Understand that the limitation of reality and the limitations caused by your psychology are two different entities. If of all the things you think of, you think that 30% are possible — you should rather think of 90-95% of that stuff as being actually possible. If its within the confines of physical reality, it's fair game.

But, if 90-95% of that stuff is actually possible, unless you happen to be hyper optimistic then maybe you’d think of 15% of that stuff as possible within the resource limitations you have. You should convert this 15% of “things that I won't be able to do” to “things that could actually work if the resources were right”. That way, you can make a plan in order to conquer it, without just being chained by thinking about whether it's possible or not. It’s possible, with the right resources.

There's addressing the resource limitation problem itself. Whatever it is you need, if you really want it, go get it - if what you're chasing after is important enough for you to bother to do so. Don't focus too much time on “can't”, but “how”.


These kids were amazing. Unbound by psychological restraint, they jumped dangerously from platform to platform, without fear — and with a beginner’s mind. It takes time, and differences will be imperceptible, but you will definitely improve over time even if it looks like no growth is happening. An awareness that the psychological subset may be a 60-70% subset of “reality limitation” and is therefore a self generated limitation, will stand you in good stead for staying the course on the things that you truly believe in (or even the things that you only kinda believe in).

Do not misperceive psychological limits as real limits.