You have more strength in you than you even realize, but how do you bring it out?
Sisu is a Finnish concept based on grit, bravery, and resilience. Sisu is all about having a real stoic determinism and is something that the people of Finland pride themselves on. We may call it “having a stiff upper lip“, but it goes much deeper than that.
This article will look at what Sisu is all about, and how you can adopt it for yourself.
What Does Sisu Really Mean?
I mentioned some of its traits, but we can see Sisu as the ultimate form of courage. It’s about what you do when your back is up against the wall and all the odds are against you.
It’s all about sticking to a course of action and not backing down no matter what adversity you face. No matter the odds you may be up against, Sisu allows you to not be overcome by them.
We can see a popular culture example of this in Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. When faced with certain doom from an attack by the Empire, Han Solo – with his back against the wall – takes the Millenium Falcon into an asteroid field.
Something that’s considered a suicide mission. He is informed by C3-PO that the chances of successfully surviving an asteroid field are 3720:1, to which Solo responds, “Never tell me the odds…”.
This is an easy way of looking at Sisu as it’s all about displaying courage in the face of overwhelming adversity – and insurmountable odds.
How Long Has This Concept Been Around?
Sisu goes back hundreds of years and is one of the foundations of Finnish culture. It’s thought to be one of the best ways to understand what the Fins are truly all about. The country has always prided themselves in going beyond one’s own mental or physical capacity, and Sisu is what represents their people.
Sisu has been explained as the word that describes Finland and that “it’s the most wonderful of all their words“. This became popularized during the famous “Winter War” when the Fins were invaded by the Soviet Union. This occurred during 1939-40 and it’s when Sisu came to the forefront.
Time Magazine noted that the “Sisu” displayed by the Fins was all about tenacity. It was about the ability to keep fighting long after others would quit.
The Fins were able to take the war into Russian territory while at the same time withstanding brutal attacks by a reinforced Russian army. This allowed them to gain the upper hand as the Fins could fight in harsh conditions with no sense of throwing in the towel.
Sisu is all about bravery, bravado, and ferocity.
More Examples of Sisu
Sisu applies well to matters of war and battles, but is it something notable in a modern, non-military aspect? Most people forget that one of the biggest phone companies – Nokia – is actually Finnish. As the wireless phone market grew more intense, Nokia could hang on despite many odds being stacked up against them.
Nokia was constantly able to overcome many obstacles going into the mid-2000s and the “guts” they had displayed allowed them to stick around in the industry.
This was chalked up to the Sisu shown by Nokia’s executives. The CEO of Nokia noted how this unique Finnish quality allowed them to persevere and have endurance where other companies would falter.
We can see Steve Jobs as possessing Sisu as he refused to ever throw in the towel. He had an intensity and endurance that others couldn’t match. For Jobs, it was all about being relentless and not giving in to creating the best products possible. No was never an option.
Even being forced to leave the company that he started only made him embrace this white-knuckle courage to push forward and come back stronger than ever turning Apple into one of the biggest companies in history.
Where Does Sisu Come From & How Do You Adopt It?
With the Fins, it’s considered to have developed because of their harsh Nordic winters. To survive in an environment like that takes the ultimate in perseverance and courage.
But it’s also seen as a product of genetics, biology, psychological, and social factors. Some of it may be in you, but it’s also able to be nurtured through your environment.
This may be a social construct, but the concept of Sisu can exist in anyone. Some people have this “never give up” mindset from the day they are born – but it’s still possible to develop it.
It all comes down to your thought process and mindset.
If you grow up in an environment that fosters this approach, it will be easier for it to become naturally engrained in you. It may be the culture that allows Sisu to exist in you more than it is genetics.
This means you want to surround yourself with people who have these traits as they are more likely to rub off on you.
If Sisu is something you don’t think you have – and you want to adopt it – it means getting out of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to people – and situations – where resilience is common. Over time, you will embrace the qualities that allow you to persevere and not back down.
It also means retraining the way you think.
Your brain is like a muscle and it needs repetition to get stronger and more developed. Positive thinking – where you tell yourself to be determined and resilient – will eventually become second nature.
You need to catch yourself every time you doubt or second-guess yourself and remember that it’s just your mind telling you these things. You can train your mind, the problem is it’s we have bombarded it with negative self-talk because of the environment and culture we find ourselves in – so it takes work.
When you continue to reinforce the idea of Sisu in your mind, you will find that the perception of it has now become a reality.
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