Podcast 263: What’s Your “Guiding Question,” a Twist on a “20 for 20” List, and Bestselling Author Dan Heath Talks about a Better Way to Solve Problems.


For our book club episode 259 where we discussed the memoir Wild Game, a listener asked us to ask author Adrienne Brodeur for her stepmother Margot’s reading list. We didn’t get the question in time to ask it during the recording, so I emailed Adrienne. She responded:

I don’t have a complete list of all the books that Margot ever gave me (I knew her for 25 years!). But I do recall that the first batch including Dalva by Jim Harrison, The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. And with that, I was hooked….

Try This at Home

Ask yourself, “What’s my guiding question?” This was inspired by Happier in Hollywood’s episode 139, “What’s your question for 2020?”

We decided we needed both a professional guiding question and a personal guiding question. For me:

  • Personal: “Am I really listening?”
  • Professional: “How can I tap more deeply into my body and my senses?”

Also, I have a question that’s a combination of personal and professional, inspired by my “20 for 20” list“How can I reach out with love?

Elizabeth’s guiding questions:

  • Personal: “How can I make this situation lighter?”
  • Professional: “How does this help me step into the future?”

Happiness Hack

A listener (an Obliger) felt overwhelmed by her “20 for 20″ list so she made a list of 20 things she’s taking out for 2020.

For example:

  1. No. I will not volunteer at the school auction.
  2. We will not play more than one sport.
  3. No, I will not come to this family function that brings stress, but I always feel compelled to attend And so on…


Her word for 2020 is “No” and her slogan is “Maybe in 2021.”

Interview: Dan Heath

With his brother Chip Heath, Dan Heath has written many bestselling books like The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary ImpactDecisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and WorkSwitch: How to Change When Change Is Hard (which I read closely for my book about habit change, Better Than Before), and a delightful book called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

When he’s not writing books, Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports entrepreneurs who are fighting for social good.


Now he has a new book that’s absolutely fascinating, and extremely relevant to how to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative: Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen.

Dan Heath’s Try-This-at-Home suggestion: Tell your story as if you’re the only one responsible.

Gretchen’s Demerit: I’ve been very irritable lately. I’ve been looking at situations with a critical eye, rather than a supportive eye.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to Sarah Fain (right), her writing partner and Happier in Hollywood. Somewhat unexpectedly, Sarah is turning into an expert in spinning yarn.


  • Many of you are completists when listening to our podcast, and I hear from people who are sorry that they’re all caught up and now have to wait for each Wednesday to get a new episode. If you want more, listen to my audiobooks! AudibleiBooksGoogle PlayOuter Order, Inner Calm is a great one to listen to while you tackle some spring cleaning. Better Than Before (about habits) is one I’ve heard many people are listening to while they do their #Walk20in20
  • I have many free resources related to the Four Tendencies framework. Visit gretchenrubin.com/resources, then scroll down to the section titled “Four Tendencies.” There’s the “flash evaluation” and guides for how to use the Four Tendencies in many different contexts like work, with sweethearts, in healthcare situations, with children. Free to download and print.




Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.