45What Is Mental Toughness, and When Do We Need It?

THE COMPLEXITY AND power of our brains is barely understood. Many of us say that we are “freezing” when the temperature drops below sixty degrees. In temperatures and conditions that would cause most people to shiver uncontrollably, monks in the Himalaya steam wet towels dry. The process that enables them to do so is a particular form of meditation called g Tum-mo:

The two aspects of g Tum-mo that lead to temperature increases are “Vase breath” and concentrative visualization. “Vase breath” is a specific breathing technique which causes thermogenesis, a process of heat production. The other technique, concentrative visualization, involves focusing on a mental image of flames along the spinal cord in order to prevent heat loss. Scientists at Harvard see the phenomenon as a profound example of the mind’s ability to influence the body.1

Mental toughness is our ability to stay aware and focused in order to make good mental and emotional decisions, regardless of the stress and adversity facing us, and to do so with a positive attitude. Individuals can be very smart and get very good grades, but under pressure make poor decisions or become “frozen” with indecision. Mental toughness allows us to make good mental decisions when we are experiencing either physical adversity (tired, cold, hot, hungry, thirsty, etc.) or mental adversity (mental fatigue; difficult interpersonal relations; lack of information, time, or a combination ...

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