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Mundane or challenging tasks require extra energy to get them accomplished. Take raking and pulling leaves, for instance. Here is a job I never look forward to. Whenever days in October warm up, I am caught up in a whirlwind of unpleasant activity. Dragging my rake across driveway stones, inner voices plague me.

“You are so slow.”

“Why can’t we hire someone?” (No one else wants to do this task either.)

“Arrrgh! These leaves are wet and heavy.”

The leaves seem glued to the grass. My heart grows heavy, my movements more plodding and I become even slower. Magnifying the worst aspects of this task is making it much worse. I realize I can’t continue on this course. I need to make a change. Putting down the rake is not an option. As soon as I change my tune, I begin to perk up.

“I am really lucky to be physically able to do this task.” This one is a winner.

“How clear and clean this section looks!” So-so as a motivator.

“Only a few more pulls and l’ll be finished.” Another winner.

Falling off the exercise wagon is another arena that demands serious self conversations to get me to return to my previous level of activity. Doing classes early in the day before I get too involved with my phone or Morning Joe is a significant step. Getting into classes with lively instructors engages me. Completing segments gives me sparks of energy. I have to keep reminding myself of the benefits of exercise. If I can just get started ...

Eating carefully is another portion of my life that can get easily side-tracked. With temptations, such as Jayme Bakes online, with incredibly fresh rolls, chocolate ganache minicakes and crumb cakes, it is easy to see me taking a detour to East Dorset, decidedly in the wrong direction. Self talk fails in these situations. Usually, post-violation, I issue myself a warning and set new goals for better behavior. These shared situations are fairly common. How do people cope with more threatening difficulties?

Surely, ICU nurses face more significant challenges than me just go to work when patients require intubation, can’t breathe, or are near death. With lessening community support that has occurred as the pandemic continues, the daily challenges they encounter as the virus overtakes a state, loom as much more dispiriting. I wonder what level of self-talk they require to put on uncomfortable gear, which is only somewhat safe, to help patients or to maintain being supportive for distraught family members.

Seeing positive examples of political action, my encouraging self-talk about our current politics has been revived. In a YouTube video, a group of musicians and artists, named Joy to the Polls, have been entertaining early voters waiting in lines to vote in Philadelphia by dancing the Cha Cha Slide. Their plan is to defuse tension created by long waits and worries about voter intimidation. Brooklyn United, a marching band with dancers, energized voters in New York. These groups and others hope to create an incentive to vote. Recently, I saw a joint ad from the two competing candidates for the governorship of Utah. What a surprise! The two candidates, Cox and Peterson, decided to join together and be a positive example for other campaigns. They are united in reacting with respect to each other despite their political differences and invite voters in Utah to do the same. The music for voters and the ad were uplifting for me. I thought our country can get better and we will. It will take time.

After all, over time, I did finish those leaves.

Roberta Devlin-Scherer has a doctorate from Temple University and was a professor at Seton Hall University for 20 years. She has written books, articles and poetry. She lives in Sunderland.


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