Podcast 304: We Reveal How We Did with Our “20 for 2020” Lists, Plus a Hack for Not Forgetting Items.

Update: Start thinking about your aims for 2021! Choose a one-word theme for the year, plan your New Year’s resolutions, start your own happiness project. As you think ahead to 2021, you might find my books useful—in particular, The Happiness Project and my book about habit change, Better Than Before.

Try This at Home

Review your 20 for 2020 list, and see what you can learn from what did and didn’t happen.

In episode 149, we talked about our “18 for 2018” lists and in episode 203, we discussed our “19 for 2019” lists, in 255, we talked about our “20 for 2020” lists.

Why make a list like this? Research shows that people who construct their goals in concrete terms are 50 percent more likely to feel confident they will attain their goals and 32 percent more likely to feel in control of their lives.

For some reason, we’ve found—and listeners say the same is true for them—that there’s something fresh and fun about making a 20 for 2020 list.

For us, as for most people, the pandemic meant that many items on our lists just couldn’t be accomplished.

Gretchen’s 20 for 2020 list:

Writing and Reading and Podcasting

1. Go to Met every day — DONE 2. Summer of Woolf (last year was Summer of Proust) — changed to the Summer of Black Authors — DONE 3. Make a Scrapbook of “Now” (repeat from 2019) – no 4. Have a scent party and a flavor party – no 5. Work on my playful projects: Color; “My America Feeling”; “Report to the Committee on Exploration” — DONE; “Why and How I Quit Sugar,” my aphorism book — in process

 Health and Exercise

6. Start Pilates — no 7. Back exercises — no 8. Walk 20 minutes in ’20 — DONE 9. Weekly walk with a friend — DONE 10. Get a colonoscopy — DONEI used Cologuard 11. Get a shingles vaccine — DONE


12. Re-do the Life Timeline books for me, Eliza, and Eleanor — DONE 13. Catch up on my photo albums — DONE


14. Have eight people over for dinner, six times (repeat from 19 for 2019) — started, cut off because of COVID 15. Have a podcasters’ party — no 16. Make an effort to look more visibly happy to see people — no

Upping my game

17. Money 2020: organize my finances better — DONE 18. Wear make-up every day — no


19. Identify an organization that we want to donate to as a family — these organizations have included Bail ProjectNAACP Legal and Educational Defense FundOsborne Association, and Bottom Line DONE 20. Reach out with love I’ve truly been trying to put this item into action

Elizabeth’s 20 for 2020 list:

1. Get Jack’s passport renewed 2. Plant a vegetable garden; later changed to “Get a voice coach” — partially addressed 3. Celebrate twenty years of writing partnership with Sarah — cancelled 4. Moms’ spa trip — cancelled 5. Cut down on processed food, eat more vegetables, “cook” twice a week — spotty 6. Paint her fingernails for special occasions — no 7. Read 20 novels (20 novels for 2020) — DONE 8. Write a will — no 9. Create and sell Happier in Hollywood merchandise. (Here I am with my Silipint cup!) 10. Get together with college friends in Miami — cancelled 11. Complete the first fiction podcast with Sarah — underway 12. Go to spin class (repeat from 2018) — no 13. Go to the Integraton (repeat from 2019) — no 14. Get the perfect gold necklace (repeat from 2019) — crossed off the list; not right for these uncertain times 15. Love without expectation — did better! DONE 16. Wear each of her blazers at least three times — no 17. Take a week-long family vacation — cancelled 18. Figure out the latest version of Final Draft software — no 19. Buy three extra phone chargers — DONE 20. Have monthly dinners with our neighbors — no 21. New item: Work to provide opportunities for black writers and to make Hollywood a fairer place; for one thing, add an “Amplify” segment to the Happier in Hollywood podcast — DONE When you review your lists, remember, don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t do, or what you couldn’t do. It’s meant to be a form of insight and a source of happy accomplishment.

As you start to think about your list, you can do it the way we do, or give it your own twist:

Some people:

  • make a list of 21 items that involve the number 21, like “Read 21 books”
  • organize your lists into themes, such as “Adventure,” “Family,” “Career”
  • have one theme for the entire list, such as “Health”—this theme might tie into your one-word theme for the year
  • make a “ta-da” list to remind yourself of everything you’ve already done
  • make a list of only fun, enjoyable things
  • make a list of 10 stretch goals and 10 easy goals plus one bonus
  • make a list to tackle with another person or as a family
  • make a list of 21 things you don’t want to do
  • instead of “do X,” add “try X”
  • allow for evolution, by #21 something like “Replace one item on the list with something I’d rather do”

Sharing lists can be a great ice-breaking exercise. People’s lists reveal a lot about interests, values, and aspirations—it’s an interesting glimpse into someone’s personality, but it’s not so intimate that it feels inappropriate.

If you’d like a sheet where you can write your “21 for 2021” list neatly, download yours here.

Happiness Hack

To avoid leaving something behind, like keys or groceries at a friend’s house, stow your keys with whatever the item is. That way, you can’t leave without it.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: She started putting up her holiday decorations, then stalled out halfway through.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold start to our listener Bernice, who showed her appreciation of the Happier podcast by making a gift in my honor to the New York Public Library. What a wonderful idea—my name will be in a book that’s circulating in the library! That made me so happy.

To make a donation in someone name, here’s the link.





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