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10 Life Lessons I Learned From Playing Solitaire (Really)

Games do more than entertain and help us pass the time. They give us time to think, create, and reflect. And hone our skills.

Yeah, I confess. I like playing Solitaire on my computer from time to time.

It’s not like I don’t have a social life. Well, I do. Sort of. Not as exciting as it used to be, but hey, we’ve been married for over 25 years. ‘Nuff said.

I’m not a procrastinator either. In fact, I like to multitask. Now some people (read “guys”) think that the human brain isn’t wired to truly do more than one thing at a time. Well, they’re not women. All those millennia when the assorted male types were off stalking the elusive beast for dinner, we women were out gathering herbs, berries, wild veggies, guarding against predators, and watching and nursing our babies so that some predator wouldn’t grab them for its dinner. We’ve evolved to multitask.

And multitask we do. When you know how to do something pretty well, like laundry or cleaning, it doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to manage.

I find that basic repetitive activity sets up a type of white noise that helps the rest of my mind think creatively and solve problems. For example, walking or exercising via Zoom are the perfect times to get that physical exercise while I memorize scripts for upcoming film, TV, or commercial auditions, all of which give very short (1-2 days) turnaround times. And think up new ideas for videos and blog posts, like this one.

Solitaire on the computer provides a similar kind of white noise for the brain. When I’m sitting at my desk and feeling frustrated or creatively stuck, I turn to playing Solitaire for a few minutes. It shifts my brain away from the previous patterns where I became stuck. The repetitive, familiar moves of the game grant me the freedom to mentally roam. There’s even a little subconscious encouragement that boosts my confidence as I’m building those card piles. Frustration is replaced with a feeling of progress. A quick game is often all I need to get over my creative hump and see the way forward to the next step.

Given to being philosophical at times, I can’t but help see parallels to what goes into playing a good hand in Solitaire and what often works in life and business.

Games are testing grounds to discover what works ... and what doesn't

Let’s see if you agree with me. Here are some life lessons learned from playing those quick games of Solitaire:

1. Know your goal

If you want to succeed at anything, you first have to define your goal and know the rules you have to play by.

There are various versions of Solitaire, but the goal and rules are fairly the same. I’m not going to go into the details, but essentially (and for definition purposes for this post), you have three things to work with:

  • The stack of cards to draw from, usually three at a time, using the third card.

  • Seven tableau piles to work from, building from the highest shown on a pile down to the lowest. Largest pile that you could have would be a King down to a 2. The card in a tableau pile must be alternated by color (usually black or red).

  • Four foundation suit piles to build. The four suits are aces, spades, hearts, and diamonds and are built from the Aces up to the Kings,

Your goal is to complete all four foundation suite piles correctly. When you do, you win. If you’re playing an electronic version, you’ll often see some sort of digital celebration, with cards flying or joyous proclamations that you won.

In life and business, it’s safe to say that most of us have goals or objectives we’re working to meet. Without those, there’s no use planning, unless your goal is to wander aimlessly through life. Not the best way to run a successful business,

2. Move your business forward

It may be fun building the tableau stacks, but if you’re not moving them to the foundation suit stacks above (Aces up to Kings), you’re just engaged in busy work.

There’s busy work in every business, too, so make sure it’s productive and leads to your desired goal. Otherwise, you’re not going to accomplish anything. You want more customers? You have to do the tedious busy work of marketing and following through on your leads. If you’re sidelined by just scrolling around on your LinkedIn or Instagram feeds and not engaging with others, creating content or programs of interest to your targeted audience, or emailing or calling them directly, or anything else that reaches out to your targeted audience … you’re just playing around.

3. If something’s not working, go on to the next opportunity

You can tell when a Solitaire hand is just not going places. If you’re like me, you may play it to its natural conclusion because you don’t want to quit prematurely if there’s a possibility of succeeding, but when you’re done – you’re done. There’s no point fretting or spending too much time worrying over it. Cut your losses, see that it’s just one opportunity, and go on to the next hand.

In your business, if one lead’s not panning out, go on to the next one. It’s truly a numbers game. Sales people know this. So do actors. We hear “no” far too often, whether it’s delivered via email, phone, or in person – or, in most cases, with silence. Don’t take it personally, do your best, and if it doesn’t work out, move on. Next!

4. Life’s a crapshoot

There, I said it. We can’t control everything. You’re dealt the hand you’re dealt with in life. Maybe you got lucky and were born with every advantage in life. Maybe you got the short end of the stick. Whatever it is, play your cards the best way you can. You can only control what you can control and make the best decisions available to you.

Some of the people I respect most are those who daily make the most of what they CAN do, rather than bemoan the unfairness of life and thus never even try. Sometimes the disadvantages are obvious, sometimes they’re hidden. As in Solitaire, most of us can’t tell at first when we’ve been dealt a winning or a losing hand. We have to play it for a while. The whole point is to enjoy the game, the good people and things in life, the entrepreneurial adventure. Even if all the cards don’t end up on their winning piles, we can at least enjoy a satisfying game well played.

5. Teamwork, diversity and inclusion – it’s all in the cards

It’s in the rules. You can’t even begin to play Solitaire without including cards of every suit. You have to work with each type of color card (usually black and red) and both the number and picture cards.

It’s also in the human DNA. We’re communal creatures. Yes, we’re often most comfortable with others like ourselves (our suit cards), but we have a much richer and deeper experience when we work with the others. And that’s how we build community.

If nothing else, this lesson is about teamwork. Working together towards a common goal, knowing the rules of the game, and building strong foundations that support everyone.

6. Look for patterns

If you do anything long enough, your mind and eye become trained to recognize the patterns of the game. You’ll build your memory as to what cards are showing on your tableau piles and save time as you cycle through your stack, looking to see if the displayed card can be added onto either a pile or directly to a foundation stack.

It’s the same thing with your business. You’ll recognize patterns in talking with leads, solving problems, knowing what steps to take in each situation. The more familiar you are with your business and customer expectations, the quicker and easier you’ll be able to deliver.

7. Take a break

We can focus on one task for only so long. Maybe for you it’s two hours, maybe for me it’s only twenty minutes. Know when your productivity begins to wane and factor in breaks accordingly.

Take a short walk outside or work on some other task that requires a totally different type of focus. Like I wrote in the introduction, a needed break can jolt you out of feeling stuck. A temporary distraction helps you regain a “fresh eye” on your work. Just don’t spend so much time on your distraction that it takes over your work time. We call that procrastination.

8. There are often multiple paths to your goal - trust your gut

Sometimes you’re presented with more than one possible option and it’s hard to tell which will lead to the better result. For example, you have two red 5s in your tableau pile to move on to a black 6 in another. Which is the better card to play? Who knows, maybe one will reveal an Ace hiding underneath or a card that’s ready to move up to one of the four foundation suit piles. And sometimes it doesn’t matter which one you play – you’ll see the same result in the end.

When faced with a crossroads, use logic and facts to help you decide, but if you don’t have any other information, use your gut. It’s more often right than not. Try it out in Solitaire when this scenario crops up. You’ll be surprised how right you are!

9. Take one step back to go two forward

You’ve got a problem. Something’s not working and you can’t continue until you back up to an earlier stage in your work and make a correction. Or maybe, you need to take an alternative course.

Depending on your version of the Solitaire game, the rules may allow you to “unmove” some recent choices. You may choose instead to NOT play a card, which allows other cards to appear that can lead to a successful game. It may look to others that you’ve missed an opportunity, but in reality this little “sacrifice” serves the greater good.

In other words, if one path is a dead end, try another.

10. Everything you need to succeed is already there

This does not mean that you WILL succeed every time. It just means that all the elements are available, even if they are hidden. Unless you’re not playing with a full deck (literally and metaphorically), every card in a 52 card deck is present and there’s always a probability that the hand can be played to its successful completion.

In our own work, many of the elements for success are at our disposal, if we choose to find and use them. Especially in a digital world, we can learn how to do something fairly easily, even if it takes time to master a new skill. Things like marketing, invoicing, providing better customer service, and so on. And there are experts, trainers, books, and online classes available to fill in the gaps.

Sometimes the deck is stacked against you and you’re just not going to win, no matter how well you play. That happens in most Solitaire games and in most businesses. 20% of new businesses fail within their first year. Nearly 50% fail within their first five years. Most business owners know this, but proceed anyways because they believe in their products, services, and themselves.

As in Solitaire, it’s up to you if you want to play the game. If so, you’ll be like many other entrepreneurs before you and keep trying different things until you succeed. Or quit to do something completely different.

So what’s the point of this post?

Laura's Quick Tips

  • It’s the little things in life that can teach us the most.

  • Enjoy what you’re doing. It’s truly the journey that matters.

  • Know where you’re going. And what success means to you.

  • Keep a positive outlook and realistic expectations.

  • Do the best you can and celebrate your accomplishments.

  • Mourn your disappointments. Then look for new opportunities.

  • Trust your experience, decision-making, and your gut.

Games are more than just playtime diversions. They can be training and testing grounds, motivational assistants, and inner cheerleaders guiding you to be your best and do your best work. And they’re fun to play, either alone or with others.

So what’s your favorite game? And how does it help you the most?

Yup, practice makes perfect. Or at least as close as we can reasonably get. Want to make a stronger impression next time you're on camera for that video project, webinar, or interview? Check out my series of super-short videos on how to be more comfortable and effective on camera: On Camera Tips for Busy Execs. Right here on YouTube!

Laura Doman smiling

I'm Laura Doman, a former tech industry sales executive, hands-on mom, voice & TV/film actress, and improv performer. I create memorable characters that tell my client's stories, from the friendly CEO touting new upgrades to your sassy best gal pal dispensing some necessary, real-world advice...Let's Talk!


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Jon Gardner
Jon Gardner
Nov 01, 2022

Good post, Laura. An interesting analogy that works as a reminder to have fun, define what success is to us, be persistent, stay positive, celebrate the wins and not let the losses keep us from moving forward. I will think of this every time I play solitaire now!

Laura Doman
Laura Doman
Nov 01, 2022
Replying to

I knew I'm not the only one playing it! You're right - it teaches us all those things, to be resilient, and not give up easily. Thanks, Jon!


Unknown member
Oct 31, 2022

I never got into Solitaire! Honestly however, I was for a time really addicted to Internet Checkers which fame in the same Windows 7 game suite...for a time, that filled every single unoccupied or unbusy moment in my work. Seriously. In fact, it was in that very game that I discovered and thoroughly developed the Kobiyashi Maru approach. You see, Internet Checkers, as elementary as it was, was still a network-play game. So I would be randomly matched to anonymous players all over the world. And, in the rare instances when I faced the threat of defeat, I would simply leave the game open and neglect to move a player when it was my turn. This would prey …

Laura Doman
Laura Doman
Nov 01, 2022
Replying to

I love your analogy! You'd make a heck of a chess player, too, Josh. Or sniper. Clearly, you don't give up and take whatever time is needed to achieve your goals. No wonder you're so successful! Glad to have you as a friend.