Four aces for a win.

How to set your definition of win

“I’d fight back unless somebody put a knife or gun to me, then I’d just do what they wanted.”

“He’d have to rape a dead body, because either he’d be dead or I’d be dead before I stopped.”

These are just two examples of definitions of win I’ve heard over the years. Which is right? Which is wrong?

Last month we talked about the two types of boundaries, how to set them, and why they’re important for self defense. One of those reasons is that having boundaries lets you know when the scenario has become one for self defense.

The other end of that is knowing how far to go, or when to stop. That’s where having a definition of win comes into play. But what exactly constitutes a win, and how do decide your definition? How do you know if it’s right?

Read on to find out.

What does it mean to win?

When I say the word win, what comes to mind? Your hands raised in victory? A sound defeat of the challenger? Luck of the draw going your way?

Those could all be considered wins, certainly. But when it comes to self defense, a win is about one thing:

How far you’ll go to survive and go home to your family.

Sound simple? It’s not. One person’s idea of survival differs from another. And only you can set your definition. We’ll go more into that in a moment, but first let’s talk about why you should know your definition.

Why should you define your win?

Just like setting boundaries allows decisive action under stress, so does defining a win for yourself. Like most things related to self defense, under duress isn’t the best time to first consider it.

When you know your definition of win in advance, you can train with it in mind– whether it’s physical training in a class, or mental training running scenarios in your head. In fact, having a definition set in your head helps you avoid the freeze mode many people suffer under the stress of an attack.

One other reason you should set your definition now is if you ever are a victim of violence, you’re less likely to question yourself afterwards. For example, psychologists have found that women who fight their rapist to the best of their ability heal faster emotionally– even if the rape still occurs.

Now that you know why defining your win is important, what should you consider when setting it?

Considerations of defining your win

As I said earlier, only you can define a win for yourself. Not your spouse, not your kids, not your friends, not a therapist or counselor, not even your self defense instructor– only you.

You aren’t required to share your definition with any of those people either. It’s meant to be locked in your own head with confidence. Of course, if you feel it’s right to share it with someone important in your life, by all means do so.

The first consideration has to do with willingness, and there are two parts.

  1. What are you willing to have done to you, and
  2. What are you willing to do to someone else?

Are you willing to let someone take your car or purse? What about taking you to another location? 

Would you let someone hit you once? Twice? Are you willing to fight against a potentially lethal weapon? Let a rapist do what he wants as long as you live through it? 

Ask yourself these two questions: What are you willing to have done to you? And what are you willing to do to someone else?

Would you go so far as to hit someone back? Gouge their eyes? Break a major joint? 

Would you stab them? Shoot them? Purposefully kill them? Would you fight so hard they had to choose whether to run away or kill you? Or would you rather live at all costs?

Another consideration is your confidence in your ability to carry out what you’re willing to do. Have you trained for it? Are you willing to? If not, do you need to adjust your definition?

Be honest with yourself. If you say you’re willing to shoot someone, make sure you’re willing to train properly. 

That means not only learning to shoot, but practicing on a regular basis. It also means learning how to shoot under stress, not just at a paper target now and then. The same can be said for fighting back empty handed.

Reassess your definition of win

One last consideration I caution everyone against is believing your definition will always be the same. You may have different definitions of win based on variations in the circumstances. 

For example, a mother may have one definition of win if she’s by herself, but a different definition of win if her kids are with her.

Something I can’t stress enough is you must consider how– or if– your definition changes if attacked by someone you know. 

Maybe you’re single now, but in five years you’ll be married. It’s easy to imagine shooting or eye gouging a faceless stranger. But what if the attacker is your spouse? Could you still do it? 

What if it’s your close friend or a neighbor? A choke by your neighbor will leave you just as dead as a choke by someone you’ve never met before.

You could well be forced to change your definition as you age. What you’re physically capable of at age 30 isn’t the same as it will be when you’re 70.

Keep in mind too that changing your definition in the heat of the moment is OK. But it’s much easier to modify a definition under stress than to come up with one from scratch.

Even if you’re positive you have your win defined, take time to check in with yourself now and again. Has anything changed?


“I’d fight back unless somebody put a knife or gun to me, then I’d just do what they wanted.”

“He’d have to rape a dead body, because either he’d be dead or I’d be dead before I stopped.”

Now that you’ve learned about definition of win, which is correct? If you said “both,” you’ve got it.

Both definitions of win are correct for the women who set them. You may not agree with one or the other, but each definition is unique to the individual.

The important thing is, they know their definitions. If woman 1 had a gun pulled on her during an attack, she wouldn’t have to wonder what to do. She already knows that’s her limit.

On the other hand, if woman 2 was attacked by a rapist who had a knife, she already knows she’ll make him pay with his life, or die trying. Perhaps you feel that’s extreme. That only means it’s not your definition.

Having a definition of win is just as important as setting boundaries when it comes to self defense. Defining your win now– before ever coming under stress of an attack– is the best time. It enables you to make quicker decisions, reduces your chance of freezing, and reduce second-guessing yourself after the fact.

Just remember, like everything else in life, your definition is likely fluid based on circumstances. Work through the considerations we laid out, and take time now and then to reassess. There’s no ultimate right or wrong, just what’s right or wrong for you.

Tell us in the comments…

Do you have a definition of win? You don’t have to tell us what it is, but:

If you already have one, did reading this give you anything new to think about? If so, what?

If you don’t have a definition, do you think it’s important to set one for yourself? Why or why not?

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