When it comes to matters of paying attention, you need to focus on the process, not the result. This is never truer than when we look at the process of communicating with teenagers. Teens, after all, are under the influence of hormones.
Occasionally, despite my best intentions, I ended up raising my voice while preaching the virtues of life to my teenage son. It happened repeatedly until, one time, it was different. That time, as I went on and on, I realized that my son was not listening to a word I was saying. Not only wasn't I getting my message across. I wasn't having any impact at all.
So, I paused. I thought about the situation for a minute, reconsidering my strategy. It always catches them off guard when we go quiet, anyway, so I took my time. And then…I had an insight, a revelation -- an “ah ha” right then and there -- about my teenage son who was under the influence of hormones.
My son was going through puberty, and it explained more than I was giving it credit.
As I understand it, here is how puberty works: The brain releases a bunch of chemicals that signal to the body and the mind that it's time to mature. It's time to make the leap from boy to man. Apparently, these chemicals are very powerful!
My son had a deeper voice and hair in new places, and on some days I swear I could actually see him grow. As I took a bird's eye view of what was happening, I realized that my son was under the influence, intoxicated with hormones, drunk as a skunk.
I began to pay attention to him differently when I realized that I was raving at a “drunk” person who was unable to process my ranting -- he was under the influence of hormones, after all. And then it hit me! I should manage the situation the same way that I would interact with a drunk.
So, I silenced myself and took a different approach. Rather than go on -- which he wasn't listening to, anyway -- I kept my tone calm and my comments brief. I was clear, simple and direct. It was not the time for waxing poetic or philosophical life lessons.
After that time, I noticed the hormones rage and subside at different times. When he was “sober” and more receptive, I took the time to sit down and talk to him on his terms. The outcome was usually much more positive when I approached him in this way. When he is “inebriated” with hormones, I stayed clear and kept it simple.
As I changed what I pay attention to (rather than changing myself), my obvious solution changed, helping me better manage the situation. Another way of putting it is that when I changed my perspective, how I was looking at a situation, I was able to achieve different (and better) outcomes.
So, the next time you are stuck and the obvious solution isn't working, pause and pay attention to what is going on. Maybe you'll have an “ah ha” that offers a new solution, something staring you right in the face that wasn't so obvious just moments before.
And one more thing. If that something that's staring you right in the face happens to be a teenager with a wild look in his eyes -- a teen under the influence of hormones -- you might try to focus on something else, at least until he has a chance to “sober” up!
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