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How to Turn Down the Noise in Your Life

STEP 1: Tune in to your mind-set. continued...

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."

To quiet your restless mind, try four-corner breathing: Using a square or rectangular object like a door or window, look at the upper left-hand corner and inhale to a count of four; move your gaze to the upper right-hand corner and hold your breath to a count of four; shift to the lower right-hand corner and exhale to a count of four; then finish at the lower left-hand corner and silently say, Relax, relax, smile, and do just that. Then repeat the exercise. You'll feel more clearheaded, so you can change your perspective on what's eating at you. Perhaps that snide coworker was just having a bad day — while you have every right to feel hurt by her comment, remind yourself that it's not personal.

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