The growth mindset goes hand in hand with an awareness of our own limitedness

An unrealistic and harmful belief which I have written about a lot is the fixed mindset (Dweck, 2006). In a fixed mindset we believe that certain capabilities and traits cannot be developed. Due to this belief we do not put in effort and we do indeed not get better. A growth mindset is more realistic and works better. In a growth mindset we believe that abilities can grow and characteristics can change. This way of thinking inspires us to do our best and increases our chances of making progress. At the same time, a growth mindset goes hand in hand with a clear awareness of our own limitedness. How is that possible?

We have to make choices

A growth mindset will have to go hand in hand with an awareness of one's own limitedness because of the following. That we can improve specific abilities does not negate that we will always remain limited. The reason is that we will never be able to develop in all directions. We will always have to make choices. The choice for one thing means that we do not choose some other thing. Getting really good at something requires a vast investment of time and attention. We simply do not have the time and attention available to get good at all conceivable things.

We discover how much more there is to know and learn

That a growth mindset indeed goes together with an awareness of one's own limitedness may have to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect means that the less we know about a knowledge domain, the more we tend to overestimate ourselves with respect to that area. The reason for this is that we do not realize how hard that specific knowledge domain is. In a fixed mindset we are inclined to avoid difficult challenges due to which we are more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect and due to which we thus are inclined to overestimate ourselves.

In a growth mindset we seek difficult challenges and we put in more effort to develop ourselves. As we do that we get better and at the same time we become more aware of our own limitations. The latter is caused by us getting more awareness of how much more there is to learn and know.

A strong example of this is Isaac Newton. In his time he towered over his contemporaries in his knowledge about math and physics. At the same time he was limited in several ways. Firstly, in his social qualities. Throughout his life he is reported to have had problematic relationships with other people and he is thought to never have had a romantic relationship. But he was even limited in his own area of expertise. He knew nothing about Einstein's theory of relativity and about quantum physics which both had yet to be discovered. That Newton was very much aware of his limitations in his own area of expertise becomes clear in this famous quote by him:
"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."


Investing in you own development does not mean that you are on path toward having no limitations. Specific limitation can be overcome more often than we perhaps think but limitedness itself is inevitable. People who think they have to become the best at everything set an unrealistic expectation for themselves. People who do such things are asking the impossible of themselves. People who claim to be the best at everything fool themselves and/or others.

The combination of the belief in your own ability to grow and the inevitability of your own limitedness can be liberating. You can work at your own growth without asking the impossible of yourself. You do not have to present an unrealistic picture of yourself. You can be honest about what you do not know and cannot do. You can ask other for help. You can appreciate and admire others for what they are good at and you are not. You can realize how interdependent we are with are different abilities and characteristics. You can realize how a developed society is dependent on us developing in different directions (see here) and that this inevitably means that there are many things about which we do not know a lot.