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The Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, yet by March 1940, the Soviet Union had signed a peace treaty. How was it that one of the greatest superpowers in the world was signing a peace treaty within a matter of months?
It was not the power of the Finnish, but rather their ‘Sisu’ which helped them in their efforts against the Soviet armed forces.
Explaining the Concept of Sisu
According to Masten (2009), Sisu is historically recognized as a Finnish character trait. Sisu does not have an exact translation in English but can be interpreted as strong self-determination, hardiness to obstacles and steadfastness in reaching goals. This character is considered an integral part of the Finnish culture and collective discourse.
Sisu can be considered a human quality; one that is expressed when acting with fortitude and confidence despite hurdles and repeated failures. Sisu can also be considered synonymous with self-control coupled with effective stress management skills.
The Power of Sisu for Psychological Potential
While Sisu has been studied by Finnish and Finnish American researchers, there has been little evidence supporting its development as a psychological construct (Taramaa, 2007).
Fortunately, recent research conducted by Emilia Lahti (2013) and Rockind and Lati (2013) explored Sisu as a concept within positive psychology, and its potential as a powerful psychological characteristic was uncovered. Sisu was presented as a resourceful psychological quality at the 3rd World Congress of Positive Psychology.
Key evidence from this research indicates that in order to develop Sisu, as a quality, people need to offer themselves opportunities to thrive in tough situations so that they may learn what it takes to push themselves beyond their comfort level (Lahti, 2013).
Through these demanding experiences, people also internalize the necessary resources for challenges in the future.
“Sisu isn’t just a thought in our head. It is how we orientate our mind towards these situations: Are we able to endure, persevere, and grow, or are we limited by the situation we are in?” – Lahti, 2013
This is another important aspect of Sisu – when in a tough situation, we should not narrow our mind to only the problem and its solutions but rather to be engaging our efforts in forward-thinking and determined action towards ensuring our success.
3 Ways to Developing Sisu
According to Lahti (2013), there are three points to consider when developing our Sisu:
Long Distance Running
Many goals in life do not demand short-term efforts but rather we have to struggle many years to achieve them. This is a real test; despite negative emotions and a desire to give up, we maintain our determination and self-confidence. Long distance running is an everyday example where we can test and learn how to acquire our Sisu.
Identify and Reflect on Our Moments of Sisu
Everyone has a different script in their life to follow, in this same way we all need to develop our self awareness to identify our own expression of Sisu, when it happens and how we can harness it for the future. Through this process of reflection we can determine our unique approach to overcoming odds and strengthen our determination and willpower.
Learn from History
There is huge value in learning from the success stories of others. By finding examples in history when people have made the impossible possible through sheer determination and strength of mind can not only be inspiring but also reassuring. Through reflection on the insights of others we can discover the vast range of avenues people have taken to reach their goals and express their Sisu.
What Sisu Teaches Us
Harsh conditions and misfortunes are an integral part of life and Sisu is a factor which makes it possible for us to sustain ourselves through these tough circumstances and take the essential steps towards our goals. Sisu is the element which helps us keep going and believe in our ability to reach success.
We are all capable of greatness and through harnessing the power of Sisu we can overcome our greatest obstacles and tap into the resources we need to achieve our goals. Here is a bit of wisdom to get you started on your journey:
“If you can’t fly then run. If you cant run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl but whatever you do, keep moving forward.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
Want to know more?
Masten, Ann S. (2009). “Ordinary Magic: Lessons from Research on Resilience in Human Development”. Education Canada, 49 (3), pp. 28–32.
Taramaa, R. (2007). “Stubborn and Silent Finns with ‘Sisu’ in Finnish-American Literature: An Imagological Study of Finnishness in the Literary Production of Finnish-American Authors (Ph.D. thesis). Acta Universitatus Oulu. Oulu: Oulu University Press.
Lahti, E. (2013). “Sisu Is a Universal Potential Within All Individuals”. Sisu Social: Transforming Barriers into Frontiers.
Rockind, C. & Lahti, E. (2013). “WK 17 How to Find the ‘Why’ of Life: A Research-Based Process to Uncover One’s Purpose and Find Meaning in Life”. Third World Congress on Positive Psychology: Final Program. Los Angeles: International Positive Psychology Association. p.108.