Podcast 305: We Share Listeners’ Success Stories from “Walk 20 in 2020” and Reveal Our Challenge for 2021. Join Us!

This episode has an unusual two-part structure:  first, we look back at success stories from the “Walk 20 in ’20“; second, we reveal our challenge for “__21in21.” (Preview: This is a fun challenge!)

Walk 20 in 20

Last January, in episode 252 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we issued a challenge to ourselves and our listeners: to walk for 20 minutes every day in 2020.

We’ve heard from so many people that the daily twenty-minute walk has been a crucial habit for helping them to stay calm, grounded, and healthy during the fear and anxiety of this time. Of course, when we chose that challenge, we didn’t realize that the coronavirus would hit.

We received so many wonderful responses! Here’s a small selection of our favorites:

  • Liz: I live in the foothills of the Catskills Mountains, and back in May, my neighbor who was starting to move forward with her divorce asked if I wanted to start walking with her in the morning. Being an Obliger, I agreed to walk at 7:00 am every morning with her and her dog. I could use the exercise and built stamina because my daughter was expecting our first grandchild In November. (also check off “walk more” on my “20 for 20” list) This invitation was exactly what I needed—we hadn’t missed one day until the end of May. Along came June, when we learned the devastating news that another neighbor’s eldest son passed away suddenly. We asked her if she wanted to join us in our morning walks—and so we became three. We talked, laughed, and sometimes cried about everything and anything. We have learned a lot about each other in these two mile walks. We have even learned our Tendencies. The three of us have discovered and really appreciate what a beautiful place our mountain neighborhood is and the people that live next to us in these early morning walks. We haven’t missed a day. I can’t express how much I have enjoyed these walks. If someone had told me that we would still be walking well into November, I wouldn’t have believed them and also how close the three of us would become. Walking our way through this crazy year of 2020, we have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows and we will emerge stronger mentally and physically entering 2021.
  • Ron: While I didn’t “walk” 20 in ’20, I cycled, most days in fact, and I continue that indoors with the cooler weather in the Great White North that is Canada! The impact on positive thoughts has been outstanding. I have come to understand the benefits of physical exercise over the past several years, but with COVID-19 this year, it has become all the more important. On those days when I couldn’t seem to make sense of what was happening, in the world, at work, at home, I would hop on my bike, and ride for 1 or 2 hours, ideally outside, especially over the summer. I always came back from that effort refreshed, with a renewed outlook. It has gotten me through this challenging year! And on a bigger scale, I am healthier, and have a much improved perspective on what is truly important.
  • Kezi: I honestly can’t believe what a difference the walking for 20 minutes in the year 2020 has made in my life. It sounds like an exaggeration but it isn’t. I started this year with the simple goal of walking for 20 minutes. After feeling the small (but powerful) success of accomplishing walking everyday things started snowballing. I decided to start running in May even though I have no experience with running. In fact running brings up painful memories of being the slowest person in middle school to complete the mile. But I decided if I can keep my walking goal I can reach a little higher. To make a long story short, on the 21st of this month I will running my first half marathon with dreams of running a full marathon next fall! I just completed nine miles on Saturday and I’m still SHOCKED that it all started with walking for 20 minutes. This has rippled into other parts of my life. Now that I’ve got my eye on a marathon I’ve started changing what I eat, and as a fellow diabetic (shout out to Liz!) this has been a game changer.
  • Florencia: #Walk20in20 helped me tremendously during this global pandemic. My husband and I found out we were expecting our second baby right as COVID-19 was starting to spread, and the lockdowns started. As a pediatrician, I continued to work throughout the pandemic seeing patients every day, which you can imagine was anxiety-provoking, especially in the beginning when we knew so little about it. Getting outside and walking 20 minutes every day in our neighborhood not only helped me maintain a healthy pregnancy, but it also helped me concentrate on actionable items every day and focus on what I could do that day. Today I’m going to walk 20 minutes, wear a mask, wash my hands, and maintain a 6-feet distance from others. Tomorrow I’m going to do it again and try my best. Walking, along with this mindset, helped me get through my pregnancy healthy and with less stress! Now on the other side of pregnancy, my baby, toddler, husband, and I continue to go on our family walks. It’s been a great way to reduce stress and get great physical activity.
  • Franzi: What I realized is that I never experienced the change of the seasons as much as I have done it this year. This makes me so happy because I sometimes got the feeling of missing out a season or not appreciating it as much as I want. Not this year.
  • @berlzipan: Since Covid-19, two friends and I have a 3:15 conference call in which we walk and talk Monday-Friday. We have a question of the day that we take turns presenting and a daily covid news update. We’re happier, healthier and more connected, and we don’t plan on stopping!
  • Brooke: I have walked outside every single day. I live in Massachusetts, so I’ve walked in snow, rain, and heat. I have loved seeing my neighborhood transition from winter to spring to summer and now to fall. My husband or kids come along pretty frequently, and it has been a great way to connect, even though we’re all together all of the time. Walking has been an anchor in my days, even when everything else was uncertain and in upheaval.
  • Courtney: I started at the beginning of the year and, other than really bad weather, pretty much kept it up and made it daily habit. When my husband discovered he had a recurrence of his colon cancer in May, the doctors felt walking would be key to his recovery from liver surgery and also during his chemo treatments. We’ve been walking daily since then, sometimes only 5 minutes at a time, but getting it done. The doctors feel this has been part of his successful treatment. To add to our incentive, we’ve been using the Yes.Fit website to do virtual walks. We just finished the Top Gun one this week. It’s fun to get the medals in the mail and to hang them in our bedroom as a visual reminder of how far we’ve come.
  • Stephanie: The most surprising thing for me that has happened during the pandemic is finding out that a daily walk has done more for my physical health than years of going to the gym ever did. I found a nice steep hill close to my home and I gradually worked up to walking up and down it 10 times while I listen to podcasts (Happier is the perfect amount of time) or an audio book.
  • Lynne: The time I’ve spent walking and hiking with my daughter have been the greatest gift. She’s a senior in high school and we’ve had amazing conversations while walking on trails. They’ve run the gamut from deep philosophical conversations to brainstorming, to silly playful conversations that we’ll both remember years from now. Somehow the act of walking along trails created a sacred space for the two of us to bond in a new way as my daughter grows older.

Read even more success stories in this post.

It’s a good reminder that it’s helpful to put healthy habits in place when things are going pretty well, because then they can strengthen is when life becomes difficult.

Also, remember that good habits are catching—your habit can influence other people’s (and dogs’) habits for the better. This is an example of the Strategy of Other People. (If you want to read more about the 21 strategies of habit change, check out my book Better Than Before.)

Remember, keep going in 2021The end of 2020 isn’t a finish line, it’s a milestone! 2020 is just the first year of the many years in which to walk for 20 minutes every day.

Some listeners mentioned the Four Tendencies. If you don’t know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, you can take the quick, free quiz here. More than 3.2 million people have taken the quiz.

And remember: if you didn’t #Walk20in20, don’t feel discouraged. Now is always the right time to begin. (If you hear me discuss one of my favorite aphorisms, one that illustrates this principle, listen to my “Little Happier: What’s the Best Time to Plant a Tree?“)

Click here to get the new don’t-break-the-chain sheet for #Walk20in21.

This year’s challenge

Drumroll….Read 21 in 21!

The year of 2020 was a tough year, so as a treat, this 2021 challenge is a delightful challenge! Read for 21 minutes every day in 2021.

Research shows that reading is good for us: it benefits mental health, sharpens the brain, makes us more empathetic, helps us learn, and increases our intolerance for uncertainty (particularly useful these days).

But to be honest, while it’s nice to know that reading is good for us, Elizabeth and I don’t really care much about that. We read because it’s fun. It’s more fun than practically anything else.

If you read for 21 minutes per day for 365 days, that’s 7,665 minutes, or almost 128 hours of reading. You can read a lot of books in 128 hours!

As you think about this challenge, my book Better Than Before might be useful. It explores the 21 strategies we can use to build our habits. Sometimes people tell me, “Twenty-one is too many! Give me the three big ones!” But different strategies work for different people, so consider the menu of options and choose the strategies that work for you.

For instance, I describe how to use the Strategy of Pairing, the Strategy of Convenience, the Strategy of Scheduling, the Strategy of Accountability, the Strategy of Monitoring, and the Strategy of Identity.

To make habit of reading easier, I’ve created a one-page “Checklist for Habit Change” that lists all the strategies that you can use to create this habit. You very well might use many strategies in combination—which is easier than it sounds. (Visit this page and scroll down to “Better Than Before.”)

You may also want to take a look at my one-pager “Tips for Reading Better Than Before,” which you can find on the same page.

My book The Four Tendencies can help you figure out the approach that’s most likely to work. If you don’t yet know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, take the quick, free quiz here.

You can also join my free app, the Better app—I’ve set up a reading group within the app. You can share tips, gain enthusiasm, and get accountability from other people who are doing #Read21in21.

Use the hashtag #Read21in21 to post from your daily walk on social media. We can all give and get encouragement and ideas from each other.

If you like using the “Don’t break the chain” approach, I created a “Read 21 in ’21” one-pager that lets you cross off every day you walk. You can download it here. But with “Don’t break the chain,” remember—while we don’t want to break the chain, if we do break the chain, it’s not a big deal—we can just start back up the next day. It’s one of my habit aphorisms: What we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while.

We have a surprise guest appearance from my daughter Eliza, about why she thinks #Read21in21 is a great idea.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does it count if I listen to an audiobook? Yes.

Does it count if I re-read a book that I’ve already read? Yes.

Does it count if I’m reading aloud to my children? Yes.

What if I’m reading picture books to a one-year-old? Yup, still counts.

Can I read for more than 21 minutes? Of course! That’s even better!

Is there a “best” time of day to read? No. Figure out what works for you.

Can I quit a book before I’ve finished it? Well, some people do feel strongly that once they start a book, they’re committed to finishing it. I used to feel that way, but I’ve changed my mind. Life is short, and there are too many wonderful books to read. Your call. Either way, it counts toward the 21 minutes.

Can I break up the time, or do I need to read for 21 minutes straight? On the one hand, I’m a big believer in making habits manageable and attainable. On the other hand, I do think most people enjoy reading more when they have a chance to sink into the experience. Reading a book in three-minute snatches won’t be nearly as satisfying as reading in longer bursts. Do what works for you, but I’d keep that in mind.

Then there’s the opposite question, what if you can’t do it every day, but want to do 147 minutes total over the course of the week? Again, do what works for you, but doing something every day helps it stick.

Should I log the books I read? Many people get a powerful feeling of satisfaction from reviewing the list of the books they’ve read, so it’s worth considering.  These days, every week, I take a photo of the books I finished that week, as an easy way to keep a record. (If you want to see the books I’ve read, look here). But if keeping a record feels like a chore, don’t worry about it.

Does reading for work count? Hmmm. That’s a no.

Imagine how great it will feel to get to the end of 2021 and think back on all the reading you did, 21 minutes a day, over the course of the year.

Remember: Whenever it is and wherever you are, there’s always a book waiting for you.

Gretchen’s Demerit: We had a big, beautiful snow here in New York City—but I ignored it.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the medical team who created this Boston Medical Center TikTok video to celebrate the arrival of the first vaccines.


  • Starting on December 26, I’ll be giving away books and mugs on Instagram. Follow me @gretchenrubin to enter to win.
  • If you’re looking for a creative way of setting goals for the new year, try making a “21 for 2021” list! List twenty-one things you’d like to do by 2022. To help you get started, I’ve created a PDF for you to organize your list. Click here to download.
  • If you listen to Happier (or most other podcasts), you hear the hosts ask listeners to rate and review the show. Why? Listeners respect the views of other listeners, so by rating and reviewing—assuming you have good things to say!—you make other people get interested. Rates and reviews also build buzz around the show. It’s easy to rate and review—once you know what to do. Click here to find step-by-step instructions. Give yourself a gold star if you’ve subscribed, rated, reviewed, or recommended the show. It really is a tremendous help to Elizabeth and me.




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