“Did you know that all Solitaire games have at least one solution?” proclaimed my father to a nine-year-old me, after seeing me play (and mostly lose) Solitaire on his computer. I’m pretty sure he meant it in a harmless, ‘fun fact’ kind of way, but my little perfectionist brain naturally took this as a personal attack. “That means, if I lose, it’s…my fault?” I whispered to myself. I immediately decided that I hated Solitaire.
To this day, whenever I’m bad at something, I find it a lot easier to give up rather than put in the work to get better. This affinity for quitting spans across all aspects of my life — work, relationships, hobbies; if I’m not winning, I don’t want to play. I only recently learned that this type of attitude actually has a name for it: fixed mindset.
So the thing about fixed mindset people is that they can do really great things…but only when everything is going their way. Anytime they make a mistake, they get stuck. They get fixated on the fact that they made a mistake, start to spiral, and completely miss the lesson that said mistake could have taught them.
When I picked up Solitaire again a couple years ago, I at first played it much like I used to — whenever I lost a game, I would get annoyed and tap New Deal. But one day, I decided to try something different — I tapped Replay. And you know what happened? I won. My mind just about exploded.
Unfortunately, one replay doesn’t always guarantee a win, and at that point, I didn’t have the fortitude to play the same game more than twice. But my wins-to-losses ratio did get a little less sad. To someone with a growth mindset, this might seem obvious. The more you try, the closer you’ll get to your goal.
But I find it incredibly difficult and frustrating to work through challenges. It’s like I’m always one click away from the proverbial delete button. Sometimes, this fear of failing can be enough to stop me from even making an attempt.
I know this is a problem. It’s a problem I’ve been tumultuously trying to work through for years, not knowing it had a name and solutions that were already available on the internet. Urgh. Anyway, you know how I knew I had made a bit of progress? I got good at Solitaire.
How did I do this? I learned to focus on the game itself rather than winning or losing. Suddenly, I started noticing the cards that tripped me up. The cards I was missing. The cards that need to go here so those cards could go there and those other cards could go over there and…you get the point. Now, I’m able to find a solution for most games. Whether it takes me one or four tries, I don’t give up.
There’s a lot of science behind how people end up in one of these two mindsets. But I don’t know any of it, and it doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that these mindsets aren’t biologically predetermined, they are learned. This means they can be changed.
Now that I have a name and concrete strategies for the thing I was trying to get better at — watch out world! But I know it won’t be easy. The stakes are higher (and therefore scarier) in real life. Solitaire is just a game, it has an undo button.
Life doesn’t have an undo button. You have to remember not to make the same mistake again, which is already hard, then sometimes, a different obstacle comes out of nowhere and completely blindsides you. But you keep trying. Because aren’t the most satisfying victories the ones you’ve had to work the hardest for?