Cultivating Sisu

Since writing about Sisu a few weeks ago, a Finnish concept that is somewhat akin to grit and willpower, I have moved on from removing snow from the deck and driveway to removing snow from the roof. The view is better but the snow is heavier. And it is a wonderful place for contemplation.

According to researcher Emilia Lahti, the most commonly held view of Sisu is a “psychological strength capacity enabling individuals to power on when they feel they have reached the limits of their perceived mental or physical capacities”. As I threw shovelful, after shovelful of snow off the roof I thought about the ability to ‘power on’. Sisu signifies more than just being persistent at a task, but rather it means keeping at it past where you thought your limit was. It involves tenacity, resilience and hardiness and as this winter throws all it can at us, it would be helpful for us to have a bit more of all those qualities.

How can we embrace and nurture our own Sisu? The Finns believe that people innately have varying levels of Sisu and yet it is something that can be cultivated. According to Katja Pantzar in her book The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness through the Power of Sisu, although the roots of Sisu lie in a type of icy Nordic practicality and determination, anyone, no matter their nationality, can tap into their own Sisu by moving outside their comfort zone and trying new things that may have seemed beyond their limits.

Embarking on a specific challenge is a great way to cultivate Sisu. You may not want to run 2400km across New Zealand like Emilia Lahti did, but in her blog, “The Sisu Lab”, she suggests a 30 day exercise (plank) challenge as a means to cultivate Sisu. She notes that this type of challenge trains your ability to see what might be; demonstrates to yourself that you are capable of taking action, sticking to a goal and bringing that new potential reality into existence; and cultivates an action mindset and trains your willpower which transfers into other areas and challenges in your life. By starting where we are and gradually, but persistently, striving to go a bit further each day, we can exceed what we thought were our limits.

You don’t have to push yourself to the edge to get started cultivating your Sisu. Whether you try a physical challenge like walking or running everyday or a mental/emotional challenge such as getting over a fear or breaking a bad habit, it helps to chart a path with measurable benchmarks along the way to your goal. If you would rather die than do public speaking then challenge yourself to join Toastmasters and give a talk within a month. If you are very shy consider a challenge to meet and get to know all the people on your street. The internet is filled with 21 and 30 day challenges that offer plans and support for healthy eating, activity and lots more. Consider picking one that will take you beyond a current limiting belief and then be sure to celebrate and acknowledge that you have more in the tank than you thought.

So, how are your going to Sisu it up today?