Sisu – The Beating Heart of being Amazing Every Day
Sisu. Sometimes one simple four letter word can blow you away with it’s authentic power. A truly gifted and amazing man called James (both a good friend and client) kindly sent me just such a new word on Saturday – Sisu.
While I am very grateful for his gift, it has caused my mind to begin to explore it’s vast potential and it has distracted me from doing anything else. On a Saturday. You see as part of my Be Amazing Every Day programme, there is an instruction (buried within it, as an embedded command), to read more (and watch) more than you thought possible. It works for me too and James has woken this desire to fully understand this word. My reading has created new neural pathways, new thought processes and is a paradigm shift.
So I invite you to begin your journey of discovery by reading the amazing poem, Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (even if you have read it before). Buried within this inspiring and challenging poem are the beautiful lines,
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
This could be described as a form of Sisu, a Finnish word that cannot be translated properly into the English language. If you had to translate it, it might evoke determination, bravery, resilience, perseverance and hardiness. It also could mean to act rationally in the face of adversity and remain functional when the only logical thing would be to run away or hide. Staying top left for those in the know.
There is no doubt that the term Sisu dates back hundreds of years – it has a bleak tradition. The modern and more positive concept of Sisu arose originally out of the harsh and violent conditions under which Finns had to survive throughout their history, and it can be seen as a product of these conditions.
It is often described as the essential character of the Finnish nation. Mika Hakkinen (one of the world’s greatest motor racing and Finnish through and through). He describes Sisu in an episode of the now defunct BBC programme, Top Gear. He is training James May (aka Captain Slow) to drive a rally car and takes time out to define the term (you can skip to 4:30 to 5:10).
The origins and etymology of the word is derived from ‘sisus´, which quite literally refers to the physical internal organs of a human or animal body (literally its ‘guts’), or it can simply mean the interior of an object.Whereas ‘having guts’ primarily refers to displaying the courage and audacity to do something risky, ‘having Sisu’ has the added dimension of doing so with integrity, honesty and humility.
Eminem – Guts Over Fear ft. Sia (contains some (strong) swear words) – is a powerful, visceral description of Sisu.
Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Sisu is not so much about individual acts but is an entire way of life, a life philosophy. It is often used (sometime inappropriately) to refer to athletes, soldiers and national heroes. More generally to anyone who endures stress in their daily lives or who chooses to stand up against injustice. From Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela to the recent Noble prize winner Malala Yousafzai – take the time to watch and listen to her amazing Nobel Peace Prize Speech (contains no swear words and is amazing in every way):
The surprising thing is that hardly any empirical research has been done to explore the meaning of this construct as a possible psychological strength resource, and it has long seemed to have a somewhat elusive nature. Sisu might be at the basis for the growth of aspects of Positive Psychology. Sisu as a psychological power potential was introduced for the first time in the 3rd World Congress on Positive Psychology in Los Angeles on 29 June 2013. Sisu is described as a psychological key competence which enables extraordinary action to overcome a mentally or physically challenging situation. Malala would surely be the very definition of Sisu.
Sisu also contributes to very understanding and being of Amazing Every Day. It needs noble discipline, a consistent, courageous approach toward challenges which at first seem to exceed our capacities. At the very heart of Sisu seem to be equanimity, something akin to vital force and relatively high emotion regulation. Sisu is about fighting through a wall but without boasting about it.
The term ‘guts’and Sisu may be described as twins who were raised the same family, but who then wandered off on their own and developed their own unique characteristics. Maybe you need to have both to be Amazing every day.
So thank you James. You have changed my brain forever and you are Amazing. Lucky it’s a long weekend.