How You’re Holding Yourself Back


I share how to tell whether you're playing to win or you're playing to not lose, and what you can start doing about it today.

Have you ever asked yourself this question? ‘Do I play to win or do I play to not lose?’

At first these probably sound like the same thing, right? If you’re winning you’re also not losing. But really they’re completely different things – they’re completely different mindsets.

When you’re playing to win, you’re focused on what could go right. And when you’re playing to not lose, you’re focused on what could go wrong.

We all think we’re playing to win, but we’re not. We’re certainly trying. We study hard. We work hard. We try to be healthy, productive, positive and ‘good’ with our money.

But there’s something in the back of our heads telling us that maybe we shouldn’t shine too brightly.

The fear of shining too brightly

Shining brightly is scary. You get attention and when you get attention there will be more people who will notice if you fail.

There’s something telling us we shouldn’t stand out from the crowd. We shouldn’t do anything too unconventional and we certainly shouldn’t try anything that’s failed for someone else.

How do you know if you’re playing to win?

I think if you ask yourself this question honestly you’ll come up with the right answer (i.e. a defensive ‘What?! Of course I play to win! Why the hell else would I be doing it?’ isn’t a legit answer). You will know if you’re playing to win and you will know if you’re not.

I’m not.

How to know if you’re playing big

When you’re playing to win you dream big, you don’t let anything hold you back and you let the risk of failure drive you closer to your goal instead of using it as an excuse to stop trying.

You don’t care about what others will whisper behind your backyou’re going to win. You can see it in your mind’s eye and you can feel it in your gut. It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of when.

This is the mindset I want. This is the mindset I currently have:

I’m playing to not lose. I’m being conservative. I’m not taking risks. I’m not putting myself out there. If I hear a story about how something didn’t work out for others I use that as evidence that it won’t work for me. I don’t do this consciously – I always try to see the bright side and how things might be different for me. But really, when I’m honest with myself, I’m holding myself back.

I’m scared of shining too brightly. I’m scared of success.

I know this sounds crazy, isn’t success what we all want?! Isn’t it what we’re always talking about getting? Why the hell would I be scare of it?

The answer? My mindset.

Why I’m not playing big

If you’re successful it means you tried to get there and if you truly tried to get there it means you risked failing. And that, to me, is scary.

When you play to win you’re risking failure, but you’ve still got all the upside.

When you’re playing to not lose, you’re not risking failure. It’s not a risk because it is going to happen. It’s going to happen by default because you’ve never even given yourself the chance to succeed.

We play to not lose with the best intentions.

We want to feel secure, we want to feel comfortable, we want to be liked by others. It’s uncomfortable playing to win – you call yourself and your abilities into question. It’s so much easier for our egos if we never test ourselves, if we never have any evidence of a time when we tried but didn’t succeed.

How I’m changing my mindset

So I’m changing my mindset. I’m questioning the way I think. I truly believe if you want to change your mindset, you have to know why you are the way you are in the first place.  To do it, here’s what you need to ask yourself:

What are your thoughts about success? What kind of people do you believe will become successful? What kind of people do you believe will not? Where did you learn this from?

For example, one belief I have (and one that I am fighting) is that you can’t have a successful career and great relationships. Relationships are one of the most important things in my life and I don’t want to sacrifice them for a career. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself (on a pretty subconscious level) and I think it’s also what’s been sabotaging me when it comes to getting my internship applications in on time. But that’s a story for another time.

I’m in an either/or mindset when both are possible (btw just to be clear, I’m not saying they’re easy I’m just saying they’re possible). I can have amazing relationships and an amazing career and telling myself anything else is just rationalising myself back into my comfort zone.

This is just one of the many, many limiting beliefs that I’m starting to identify – I have so many, and maybe you do too.

How to start playing big today

Maybe you want to live overseas or to move another city. But immediately, you begin to think about how you won’t know anyone, it will be hard to find your feet and you don’t want to come home embarrassed that it didn’t work out – so you don’t go.

Maybe want to apply for your dream job. But immediately, your mind jumps to the fact you might not get it and all of those other people out there who are ‘better than you’ – so you don’t even apply, you don’t even give yourself the chance.

We tell ourselves so many stories about what’s possible and they’re all made up. So I’m trying to make something up that will help propel me forward, instead of holding me back.

What do you think?

So are you playing to win or playing to not lose? And what would you’re ‘playing to win’ look like?

Don’t forget that comments are always welcome and appreciated – I’d LOVE to hear what you have to say!

Sam xx


Author: Sam Brown

  • Sam! I don’t even know what to say about this post. You hit the nail on this post and you shared EXACTLY what I am feeling at the moment. It is crazy how we can fool ourselves into thinking that we are winning and we are exactly trying not to lose. This is the perfect inspiration that I need to start my Monday morning and I appreciate your post so much! I just finished talking to someone this morning and this post aligned right with what she was saying. Also, this post is right on time because I have a very busy week that is filled with working on making my career goals and success happen! Thanks for this post so much! Amazing Sam! Here’s to not being afraid of success and truly WINNING! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment! It really means a lot to me and I’m really happy it resonated with you!

      This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and is something I’m still trying to change my mindset around. I don’t think the ‘fear of failure’ and ‘fear of success’ will go away but it’s a fear we can learn to push past instead of letting it take control of us.

      Here’s to not being afraid to play to win 🙂

      Sam xx

  • Ooh girl! So wise and so brilliant. This is something I’ve consciously been working on for the last few years. If you want to be successful, whatever that means for you, you need to shine bright, put yourself out there, take risks. I remember a few years ago sharing a vulnerable post on one of my old blogs and someone wrote back with a horribly nasty comment, telling me to “get real problems” and calling me some awful names. I didn’t even know this person. For a while afterwards, I was scared to be vulnerable with my writing. I played it safe, knowing that if I was too controversial, too open, or too honest I’d risk getting the same kind of response or rejection. But then I think about all the people who are actually doing the things I want to be doing. They have haters and critics, but they are the ones putting themselves out there, not tearing down others’ work. Playing to win is not the same as playing to not lose. Brilliant Sam. Keep these articles coming, I love them!! <3

    • Hey Alex,

      Thanks for your comment, I love it so much!

      You make such a good point with the haters and critics – if you are successful there will be haters. I really love the quote by Lady Gaga ‘if you don’t have any shadows you’re not standing in the light’. It’s so hard being open and vulnerable, it’s so easy for others to criticise you. But it’s also so easy for people to love you too.

      There will be people who are confronted by your success and who don’t know how to handle it so they will try anything they can to bring you down. I can’t think of a single successful person that doesn’t have haters of some sort. But whatever anyone says about you is a reflection of them and their limits, not of you. They’re the ones with the issues.

      I know from experience that when someone says something to you that hurts your feelings its really hard not to take it personally and I’m so happy to hear that you’re playing to win 🙂

      Sam xx

      • Great comment Alex! It’s true, sometimes we let fear of what others think etc hold us back. But you are right, we need to stay true to ourselves and that does mean being vulnerable at times and really going for it. It’s true, people will either applaud and encourage you or try to bring you down, whether directly or even passively (it’s the ones that doing it behind your back that are the scariest lol)… But surround yourself and focus on the ones who support you and also who will benefit from it, which takes it to another level. It’s never just about us anyway… So inspired by your blog Sam! Refreshing and full of life! TC x

  • Wow, great post Sam. I started out reading this post like I knew exactly what I was talking about and then you totally called me out of it. Success really is scary and it’s funny that we never think about it this way. I guess I’ve got some stuff to think about now…thanks for the inspiration to set me up for a good week.
    Sending smiles 🙂

    • Hey Lauren,

      Thanks so much for your comment and nominating me for the Liebster Award, I really appreciate it 🙂 I’m so happy to hear it resonated with you. I think it is really easy to tell ourselves we’re playing to win when really we know there is a lot more we can be doing. We’re playing to win within our limits but we have to learn to push past those limits to really shine.


      Sam xx

  • Amazing post Sam! Seriously great writing 🙂 I think I used to hold myself back a lot more than I do now. I have started to be more confident in myself the more I go out of my comfort zone.
    – C
    Claudine Converses

    • Hi Claudine,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! So happy to hear that you’ve started playing to win!! That is so, so awesome.

      Sam xx

  • Great post! It’s funny, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this subject myself lately! It’s true what you say about the differences in mindsets, and how they affect the way we “play” life.

    I remember reading several psychological studies showing that we are much more desperate to avoid losing what we have than we are to win new things. I guess it’s our evolutionary instincts telling us to play it safe instead of taking the risks required to win – an obsolete survival trait from a time when playing not to lose meant survival, and playing to win meant taking unnecessary risks.

    Fortunately, in today’s world, taking risks won’t lead to certain death, and we’re able to actually play to win!


    • Hey Mathias,

      Thanks so much for your comment – I really appreciate it!

      And I think you bring up such a good point! The instinct we have to not lose what we have operates at a really primal level and I think that is one of the reason’s it’s really hard to overcome. We want to blend in with the crowd and not draw too much attention to ourselves.

      Plus I also think the whole ‘play to not lose’ is perpetuated by society. The news is almost all negative and it really breeds fear into us. We are always hearing about the people who lose instead of the people who win, and when there is someone who’s winning they’re put down for any reason they can find (they don’t dress well or they’re not attractive, they’re selfish, they’re narcissistic, they’re greedy, they’re exploiting others). No wonder we’re so scared of both success and failure.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

      Sam xx

    • Hi Audrina!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this and I’m so happy to hear this post resonated with you! Here’s to playing to win 🙂

      Sam xx

      P.S. I love your blog!!

  • Great post! This is something I’ve never really thought about but that totally resonates with me. I’ve been playing “not to lose” for too long now. Success IS scary, even though we don’t usually acknowledge that side of it. That fear of having too much attention is what holds me back. It’s sort of a double edged sword – you want recognition, but at the same time, you don’t want too many eyes on you when you could possibly fail. I would love to see a follow up to this of how to play to win 🙂

    • Hi Whitney,

      Thanks so much for your comment and I am totally on the same page, the fear of having too much attention is really what holds me back. It is definitely a double-edged sword!

      I would love to do a follow up on how to actually play to win – still trying to figure it out though haha 🙂

      Sam xx

  • You always post such inspiring content Sam! We are all our own biggest enemies when it comes to reaching our goals. It can be hard to keep a positive mindset after setbacks but you’re so right, we need to have a ‘glass half full’ attitude! I especially feel you on the new city example, sometimes you just need to take the leap and trust things will work themselves out.

    • Hi Jen,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m really glad you found it helpful 🙂 I think it’s so hard to take a leap of faith but almost always turns out amazingly well and if not, there are lessons to be learned (but the lesson isn’t that you shouldn’t leap haha just how to leap differently). All the experiences that have scared the shit out of me have been the most rewarding!

      Sam xx

    • Hi Katie,

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      I hope you take the leap and move abroad, or at least seriously consider doing it (instead of dismissing it as soon as you can think of one thing that could go wrong). You’re way more capable than you think 🙂

      Sam xx

  • Hey! Wow! What a great perspective. Everything you said pretty much hit home! I love to hear real, honest, punchy thoughts around living life! This is one of the most inspirational and on point messages I’ve read in a long while!
    Well done, thanks for sharing! And I’ve signed up to hear more of your pearls of wisdom!
    Btw, I’m in my early 40’s, so I can look back in hindsight and appreciate what you’ve said. It’s also refreshing and motivating for me to hear such positive, direct talk. It’s a good wake up for someone more middle age, to never give up on my dreams!! Bless xx

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