Limitations Help Us See

limitations help us see

When we’re desperate to see possibilities, we’re often geared to give ourselves as many possibilities as we can. The truth is that it’s better to have less possibilities, because our limitations help us see.


I’ve become addicted to a puzzle game on my phone. As an app developer I spend most of my time working on my own scavenger hunt app, but there is one game I can’t get over. It’s called Nonogram.

In the game you have a grid of empty squares. At the top of each column and to the left of each row it tells you how many connected squares there are. Your job is to block out the right squares to solve the puzzle.

At first it’s hard, because everything is empty. You look for rows or columns that are easy to figure out based on the numbers. As it goes along, the additions you make to a row make it easier to understand the columns, and then changes to those columns make it easier to understand the rows.

The more things you cross off, the easier it is to solve the puzzle, because those imitations help us see what still needs to be discovered.

Too Much Jelly

In my post on becoming an idea machine I shared a study by Professor Iyengar in 1995.

In that study her team set up sample stations for six types of jelly. In this setup they found 40% of people would stop by and 30% of them would buy some jelly. This seemed like a valuable finding.

When they tried it again with twenty-four choices, 60% of people stopped by. Of those people, however, only three percent bought something! It seems the wealth of choice actually blocked people from making a decision.

What the professor found was that limitations help us see for a very good reason.

Limitations Help Us See

We like to think we want unlimited choices. We like to think that life is better when we have complete control over everything.

The truth is that our limitations make things clearer. The blank canvas in Nonogram is more challenging than one that has a lot of things already filled in. It’s easier to choose jelly when someone has already limited our choices.

It’s elementary when you think about it. After all, if I told you to draw something, you might struggle to think of a subject. But if I told you to draw something blue or something with an engine or something set in the 50’s, suddenly images come to mind.

We may not like to admit it, but our limitations help us see. They are valuable to us. We can use them to our advantage.

So the next time you are limited by something, don’t focus on what’s missing, focus on what’s left. It can help you focus and lead you toward a more productive solution.

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About the author

David is a father, speaker, blogger (obviously), and author of How to Create Amazing Presentations sharing the tools, tips, and techniques of the experts to make you an amazing presenter, 7 Steps to Better Relationships built on the stories and lessons on this blog with seven easy steps to help you maximize your interactions with the people you care about most, and The Man in the Pit to help you care for loved ones struggling with depression.

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