Better Than Zero


Pursuing a goal and failing is better than not pursuing a goal at all.

LeAnn Hunt Explains the Better Than Zero Principle

Failing feels bad, so we sometimes don’t try at all, especially when we think we probably won’t do well. But there’s a lot of situations where failing actually has better results than refusing to try or participate at all. If you sit with the discomfort of failure, consider the most likely real-world outcome of your failure, and then compare it to the outcome of refusing to try, you may be surprised at how often even failure will bring you a little closer to where you want to be.

In Goal Getters, a book dedicated to teaching parents how to coach their kids through goal setting and goal pursuit, this example helps us coach ourselves and our family members when we are facing a goal where we might fail:


Pursuing a goal and failing is much better than not pursuing a goal at all. Failure is better than doing nothing.

Say your kid is unprepared for a quiz at school. She doesn’t want to go to class because she knows she won’t do well. There’s no more time to study, and she’s scrambling to get ready for the bus. There are times it’s a good idea as a parent to just excuse your high schooler and allow her to stay home. But here’s another approach to take sometimes: let’s say this quiz has no make-up, and other than the quiz, your kid is happy to go to school. If she avoids the quiz by staying home and pretending she is sick, or ditching that class, or whatever, then she will get a zero on the quiz.

But what if she shows up and fails? If she takes the test and only gets half right, she will fail. That’s the definition in most schools. Fifty percent is an F. But she will still get fifty points. Failure, fifty points, is better than not trying, zero points. What if you explain that to her ahead of time and help her see that failure is better than zero? Tell her you’ll be proud of her for showing up unprepared and giving it a go under these circumstances. It totally changes the nature of facing failure when the alternative is zero. This strategy is particularly helpful for ace students who aren’t used to getting poor grades. They’d rather skip the points than fail a quiz. Teaching them to embrace failure in this way makes them more resilient and agile in the future.

Hunt, L., & Eck, N. (2020). Goal Getters. Covenant Communications, Inc. p. 61.