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Women's Health

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How to Turn Down the Noise in Your Life

STEP 1: Tune in to your mind-set.

To increase your ability to focus, you first need to be aware of when you are, and aren't, in the focus zone — meaning calm, energized, and attentive versus overwhelmed or bored. "Once you become conscious of where you are at any given moment, you can do what it takes to move yourself into the focus zone and stay there," says Palladino.

Happily, there's a very easy way to gauge, and shift, your mind-set — using what Palladino calls your "adrenaline scale." Throughout the day, observe and then rate your mental state on a scale from 1 (the most relaxed you've ever been) to 10 (the most tense you've ever been). Then, make on-the-spot adjustments to get yourself in the 3-to-7 range. If you're feeling bored and sluggish, try revving yourself up by listening to fast music, taking a brisk walk, visualizing a car building speed, or giving yourself spirited commands like "3-2-1-Go!" If you're feeling overstimulated, on the other hand, you can help block outside stimuli and get into the present moment by calming yourself down: Take slow, deep breaths or repeat a phrase (aloud or to yourself) like "Easy does it" or "One step at a time."

Nicole Lerario, 33, has used this technique daily since she left the New York City theater world a couple of years ago to study massage therapy in Ithaca, NY. When Lerario is in a lecture class and feeling understimulated, she imagines a pot coming to the just-barely-bubbling point — 5 on her scale. During a break, instead of lounging around chatting, she does 25 jumping jacks outdoors. "The fact that I'm consciously checking in with myself and changing my adrenaline level makes me feel not just focused but also more in control of my day," she says.

Sometimes, as hard as you try to move yourself into the focus zone, you might feel stuck in overdrive. That's likely because other forces are at work on your mind: Whether you realize it or not, your concentration is being hijacked by an emotion — for instance, a hurt feeling over a snide comment at work. Major clue: You find yourself mindlessly clicking through TV channels or Websites or flipping through catalogs you don't need. "It's easy to lose ourselves that way; it makes us forget tough issues that, deep down, we know we have to face," says Palladino. "But those unresolved conflicts generate stress chemicals, which rob our brain of its ability to concentrate and problem-solve."

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