THE SOLITAIRE APP on my phone is kind enough to inform me when a particular shuffle has no solution.

“No useful moves detected,” it says.

I love that phrasing. No useful moves. “Sure,” it implies, “you could keep moving cards around, hoping for a breakthrough, if that makes you happy dear player, but don’t pretend you’re accomplishing anything.”

What a waste

How many times in life, after lots of determination, hard work and expended resources, do we learn we had been wasting our time, that nothing we could do would bring about the desired outcome? Perhaps you or I are in the middle of one or more of those situations right now but we haven’t realized it yet.

My solitaire game provides those of us who don’t learn from our mistakes, or who believe making a different choice earlier would change the outcome, the option to replay a dead end shuffle. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right? But there’s seldom any going back and starting over in the real world.

If only I had a clue

It’s hard enough doing the things that actually work. We don’t want to waste time and energy on things that won’t ever work. It would be great if we all had magical Futility Detectors, an all-knowing, totally benevolent gizmo that tells us in a soothing, forgiving, avuncular voice when our moves are useless.

“Al, my friend, you can keep moving around the cards of your life, but it’s not useful. There’s no solution down this path. What do you say you cut your losses and take a different road, try something different?”

No, I’m not quitting this nomadic life. I’m just waxing philosophical and offering some unsolicited advice. Examine your life, your goals, the time and energy spent on it. Are you making useless moves? Is there really any possibility of a win? Is it time to change course?

Not quitting does not guarantee a win

American culture tells us it’s wrong to quit. Losers quit, right? (Insert everything you’ve ever heard in school, pep talks, company meetings or the gym.) But chasing futility is also losing.

For those times it’s possible to reach the goal, but at way too much cost, it would also be great to have a personal Point of Diminishing Returns Detector. Have you ever struggled to push through to the goal only to discover at the end there’s no “there” there?  Yeah, me too.

A win is not always a win

To help us decide what to do when the Point of Diminishing Returns Detector alerts us, we should also have a Success Simulator. Again, the wise, soothing voice:

“Al, here’s what it would be like if you were finally able to grab the prize. Great, right? And here’s what it would be like after the rush of accomplishment fades. Will it be worth what you’re going to have to do to get there? Are you sure? If so, continue on. If not, consider reshuffling the deck and starting a new game.”

But really, all we can do is give it a try, do our best, and not get so immersed in the idealized outcome that we lose awareness of our actual situation.