The first week of social distancing, there was an influx of articles, webinars, and social media posts about tips for staying productive when working from home. Hand-up, I was one of the people posting those tips. The next week, things appeared to shift, and we were told that we SHOULD be using this time to write our novels, learn a new language, start baking (specifically banana bread) all while staying calm, taking care of family/friends, and sanitizing everything in sight. Now, there has been another shift, and we are being told not to perpetuate the “burnout culture” – that it’s okay to just be, consume content, watch Tiger King (again), and drink wine with friends over Zoom. There are so many SHOULDs. SHOULDs about ourselves, SHOULDs about others, and SHOULDS about our situation. It’s the unrealistic and rigid demands that we make about ourselves, others, and the world which make a challenging situation even more stressful.

Why does it matter if someone wants to take this time to learn a new language or get into a fitness routine? It doesn’t. But the moment we think, “Well, if they’re doing that, it means I SHOULD too” (when we really really don’t want to), we get annoyed at the other person and frustrated with ourselves. It becomes a lose-lose situation- making a bad situation worse.

We demand that we SHOULD be productive, cook a glorious instagrammable dinner every night, and organize every inch of our home. But the truth is, we don’t HAVE to do any of that. We may want to and choose to (which is great), but there isn’t a written rule saying that we HAVE to use our time in any specific way.

I really, really hate cooking. There is nothing I find enjoyable about it. That being said, I decided that I SHOULD be cooking more because I have the time. Instead of cooking the other night (and feeling guilty about my choice), I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a post from an influencer about how she hates cooking. She said that she was going to choose to order in dinner once or twice a week to ease her stress and also to help support local small businesses. My first thought was, “Phew! Now I can do that too!” I was influenced by the influencer. Why did I need this stranger to give me permission to order in? I didn’t, but I had convinced myself of a SHOULD, and it was unrelenting until I saw that post. Then my mindset shifted, and it was liberating. Even though I WANT to cook more, there is no rule that says I HAVE to cook three meals every day.

My challenge to you- can we please drop the SHOULDs? There is SO much outside of our control right now and so much uncertainty. Through all of this though, the one thing that we can control is our mindset. In this case, the demands and expectations we are putting on ourselves and others. There isn’t a playbook. No one really has any clue what is going on, or what we SHOULD be doing- EXCEPT STAYING HOME AND SOCIAL DISTANCING. Ask yourself, “What can I do in this moment to make this time a little less challenging?” rather than demanding that you do things that aren’t serving you or your overall well-being.

Here’s what I suggest: First, try creating a goal for the day, week, or even hour if that’s helpful. Next, think about what you can do to align yourself with that goal and the steps that you can take to get there. The key is to get real with yourself and ask, (1) “Is my goal realistic?” and (2) “How is this goal is going to benefit me in this moment?” If your goal is to be more productive during the day because you know that will give you a sense of normalcy, then go for it! Come up with a plan for getting yourself out of bed and sticking to a schedule. If your goal is to learn how to become the next Ina Garten because you think that’s what you SHOULD do, but you hate cooking, then maybe that isn’t the most helpful goal at this time.

Bottom line – we are all in this together for the long haul. Let’s try to stop demanding so much from ourselves and each other. Let’s work on being gentle, check in with ourselves, and be honest. Ask yourself, “What are the non-negotiables for the day?” and then change the remaining SHOULDs to WANTS. There is nothing wrong with WANTING to use your time in a certain way, but the moment we start “should-ing” and living by rigid demands that aren’t realistic, we end up just adding to the stress. All of a sudden, those activities that started as self-care no longer feel like a choice and instead are a new source of frustration. Same goes for our demands about others. We are all coping in different ways. What works for one person doesn’t have to work for everyone and that’s okay! Many of us are just trying to do the best that we can with what we have in this moment.

That being said, if you have a banana bread recipe, feel free to send it my way! Maybe I’ll like baking more than cooking?

Originally published on Linkedin


  • Brooke Wachtler, Psy.D.

    Licensed Psychologist, Founder/President BEW Consulting & Training LLC

    Dr. Brooke Wachtler is a New York State licensed psychologist and the founder/president of BEW Consulting & Training LLC. BEW is a specialized professional development consultancy service that offers companies a psychologically informed approach to professional development training. BEW's unique approach focuses on (1) delivering concrete skills and strategies to enhance professionals’ day-to-day performance, productivity, and profitability, and (2) teaching professionals how to support and develop emotional intelligence skills that are critical for career success and growth. Dr. Wachtler loves applying her knowledge and understanding of motivation, behavior, and personality to business, specifically to leadership development and innovation. She is passionate about helping people change their thought processes, actions, and behaviors to assist them in reaching their goals.