Podcast 303: Find a Ritual to “Exorcise 2020,” a Sleep+Tech Hack, and Tips for Sticking to a Schedule When Working from Home.

As a gift to listeners, I recorded the audiobook of Charles Dickens’s timeless masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. You can listen to part one of the audiobook here and part two here. Total listening time is about three hours.  If you know the story of A Christmas Carol, but you’ve never actually read or heard it, it’s well worth the listen.

Try This at Home

Exorcise 2020!

Many people are eager to bid farewell to 2020, and it’s great to have a ritual to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

With Adam and Jack, Elizabeth plans to write the things they didn’t like about 2020 on little scraps of paper, put them on skewers, and burn them in their fire pit.

I bought a set of sparklers, so as a family we can write what we didn’t like about 2020 in the air, and see it vanish.

Listeners had many great ideas.

Several ideas involved fire or burning—literally and metaphorically, and safely and responsibly of course:

  • Kristin: I’m going to bake Dumpster Fire Cookies: brown butter, kitchen sink cookies (you know, burn the butter then throw any other junk (food) into the mix). Just like 2020, these will be a mix of salty and sweet, but at least the year will end deliciously.
  • Venessa: 2020 was certainly a year worth burning, maybe even early! So in October, my friends and I built an 8′ cardboard viking ship with Cap’n Covid at the helm, filled it with the scourges of 2020 (and a few fireworks), set it adrift in my pond, AND SHOT FLAMING ARROWS AT IT UNTIL IT BURNED. Behold: the 2020 Viking Ship Funeral Pyre!
  • Carrie: I plan to send 2020 on its way with flying wish paper
  • Janae: One way I have “exorcised” a stressful period in my life is to have a fire pit and take out those old marshmallows you have from the past year’s s’mores stock. I link a stressful memory to each marshmallow and throw it into the fire.  It is very satisfying to watch it incinerate and helps signify a release of the past stress.
  • Laura: In Colombia we burn an “old year” (año viejo) which is a character made up of old clothes everyone donates and news paper inside. Sometimes we write a list of things we want to leave behind and burn it along with the año viejo character.
  • Esther: Here in Australia, it’ll be bushfire (or wildfire) season at New Year’s, so a ritual of burning something could be irresponsible or illegal! I’m inclined to write my goodbye to 2020 onto paper I can then shred and feed to my compost worms. They might as well make something good of it!

Some people did something concrete to signal a change:

  • Emily: I haven’t been able to get my hair cut for over a year. If it’s safe to go to salons in late December, I’m getting 10 inches cut off and donating it to Locks of Love. Fresh start for me and helping someone else in need — hello 2021.
  • Kelilah: I know it’s small, but each year I change my background on Facebook. 2019 was “This Is My Year.” 2020 was just a photo of the numbers 2020. I’m gonna get something very positive for 2021.
  • Lori: At the  end of 2019, I had started the process to be a non-directed living kidney donor. (This means I don’t know the recipient.) I thought I might be donating by mid-summer. Little did any of us know what 2020 had in store. My initial evaluation was scheduled for April and, due to Covid,  pushed to June, then there were more delays, but I was finally approved. Maybe getting rid of an organ doesn’t seem like the most practical way to “exorcise 2020” but the sense of purpose I am feeling at helping someone I don’t even know far overshadows anything 2020 has thrown at me this year.
  • DeeDee: On New Year’s Day 2020, a girlfriend and I got full body scrubs to “wash away” the old, and it was such a relaxing and reviving experience we made a pact to start every year this way. I’m hopeful that we will be able to do so again, maybe wearing a mask, but it was a nice thing to do for ourselves (and the outer accountability to encourage each other might also help, being an Obliger myself!)
  • Mimi: I’ve been doing a lot of running during this time, so much that I ran the New York City marathon virtually. It was my first full marathon in 19 years, and it was awesome. I need a new running goal, so to exorcise 2020, I am going to do a 20-mile run in December.  Then I’m going to get rid of my running shoes and buy new ones for 2021.

Many people emphasized that they didn’t want to dismiss 2020 entirely, but wanted a ritual to help them hold onto its lessons, benefits, and good times:

  • Kirsti: Despite all of the tragedy, sadness, and many other terrible adjectives we could use here, as a mother, the pandemic has provided us more time together as a family. This I do not want to forget. So while the rest can be gone, a 2020 photo album of the many moments we had together is a must. We had days that would have never otherwise happened, like the day I attempted to recreate Disney World in the living room, or our talent show in full costume, or the many drives and hikes to pass the day. When I look back, these are the moments of 2020 I want to preserve and look back on.
  • Amy: I’m calling my ritual “Embrace 2020.” I want to acknowledge and honor what we all went through this year—all the deaths, the losses, the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I want to hold dear all the blessings and grace I received in 2020. I want to remember what I learned this year as I envision 2021. So I’ll light incense, meditate, raise a glass and write in a new journal on New Year’s Eve.
  • Maria: There has been so much negativity this year and so much of everyone’s focus has been placed on what didn’t happen, on what we lost, on what we didn’t get, that my goal is to sit down on December 31st and write down something I am grateful for, for every month of this crazy year. I want to start 2021 with a more positive attitude, gratefulness, and more focused on the past I’ve lived and survived, than planning for a very uncertain future!

More ideas:

  • Joy: On New Year’s Eve, we often wear new attire and hear mass. Afterward, we eat good food and round fruits. Then we watch the neighborhood for fireworks and count down the new year countdown. We blow trumpets and bang pots. We help wash and clean despite our being tipsy, then we all sleep. For 2020, we can light candles and pray for all those who suffered and died during the year. It’s just like what we do for the faithful departed or dear dead.
  • Marta: I plan to thank 20 people who really have made this year more bearable. I want to send each of them a grateful note explaining the reason he/she has been important to me during this crazy year. And the first person is myself: I want to give myself a big “thank you” because I feel I have had great positivity and strength this year, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.
  • Diana: Make a piñata! To decorate it, paint large numerals 2020 on it.  Then write down or draw pictures of all the things you didn’t like about 2020.  All the family can participate in this. Paste everyone’s contributions to decorate the piñata. Fill the inside with positive quotes, aphorisms, and fortunes; all things that can inspire and give everyone hope for the coming year.  (As well as treats and little gifts for children.) On New Year’s Eve, take turns beating up 2020 and watch the piñata open up with the happy things inside.

Happiness Hack

If you like to listen to a podcast as you fall asleep, use the “sleep timer” function in your podcast app. For easy instructions on how to set your sleep timer, look here.

Four Tendencies Tip

If you’re an Obliger who needs help with sticking to a schedule while working from home, remember—the secret is outer accountability! Accountability, and it must be outer accountability.

If you’re not familiar with my “Four Tendencies” personality framework, it divides people into categories depending on how they respond to expectations. Don’t know if you’re an Obliger—or a Rebel, Questioner, or Upholder? Take the free, quick quiz here. For more ideas about creating outer accountability, read the “Obliger” chapter of my book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

Gretchen’s Demerit: I’m an underbuyer, and while I love the holiday scent of paper-white narcissus flowers, I haven’t bought any yet. I keep delaying.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to her friend Amanda, for proposing that they act as accountability partners for each other for walking 10,000 steps a day. Elizabeth is an Obliger, and this outer accountability is key to success. (See above!)


  • Want to win a signed, personalized copy of The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal? To enter, follow my Instagram account @gretchenrubin, like the giveaway post, and comment on the post tagging 3 friends. If you win, I will send you a signed, personalized journal. (Giveaway is only open to U.S. readers, alas—mailing costs.)



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.