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