Move over hygge, there’s a new nordic philosophy in town and it will help you acheive your dreams, says Joanna Nylund
The concept of sisu in the Finnish language is at least 500 years old. In the most literal sense, sisu refers to the guts (sisus or sisälmykset) inside our bodies. It is thought to stem from the ancient belief that the belly was a location of strength (think of the phrase ‘fire in one’s belly’) and the place where our determination originates.
Sisu is many things… the exact meaning is difficult to define. There’s no one word in the English language with a literal parallel, and even in Finnish, sisu stands for a cluster of traits that includes stoic determination, hardiness, courage, bravery, willpower, tenacity and resilience. It is an actionoriented mindset: it comes into play as you take on a challenge seemingly beyond your capacity. It is called upon when adversity and opposition force you to give up and only Move over hygge, there’s a new nordic philosophy in town and it will help you acheive your dreams, says Joanna Nylund your courage allows you to hold on… but it’s not bravado. Finns have a reputation for being tight-lipped and stoney-faced. Ours is not a culture that expresses emotion very freely (although that is slowly changing).
With this in mind, an essential trait of sisu is the lack of a need to talk about it. Any kind of swagger or talking up your bravery has no place in it. It’s no good just saying you have sisu if you can’t show it – let your actions do the talking. The chances are, you have already tapped into your sisu. You just didn’t have a word for it. Let’s be very clear: sisu is a universal trait. It may have been bottled and labelled by us Finns, but it is within reach of everyone. It lies within you, and you are very likely to have used it already. Here are just a few examples of occasions when you may have displayed sisu: At school, you ran the race to the finish line, even though those last few steps were torture. Or, you decided not to give up on your marriage, even though the road to saving it was long and hard. You felt, in the midst of a dark moment, a surge of courage that helped you carry on.
But what else is there to sisu? Can it be explored and used as a strategy? Can it improve our lives? If the notion of growing stronger in sisu and learning to tap into it intrigues you, read on.
It’s easy to feel small in the face of large challenges. Instead, change your perspective and try to find ways of making your size work to your advantage. Think outside the box. The Finnish wartime strategy was about adopting guerrilla tactics and making the most of the home advantage. People were forced to come up with solutions for everything from food supplies to homemade mines.
People who find themselves in a war probably don’t experience a sense of destiny. In crises we tend to focus only on keeping something bad from happening and we feel miserable, not courageous. Clenching our teeth and holding firm may not seem much, but it will win the day.
When Winston Churchill gave his famous rallying cry of “we shall never surrender”, he was rousing sisu in the hearts of the British. And so much of sisu is just that – in the face of impossible odds, stand your ground. Sisu is courage, but it’s also a positive decision.
‘Hyvin suunniteltu on puoliksi tehty’ is a popular Finnish expression that means ‘being well-prepared is half the job done’. If you have to do something that makes you nervous, prepare as much as you can – and then some more. If your nerves start to fray, at least you won’t have to worry about not knowing your stuff.
In challenging situations we often neglect ourselves, or at the very least, put our own needs last. Rethink that and you’ll find positive ripple effects reaching far and wide. Get enough sleep, fresh air, good nutrition and me time – you’ll both feel and perform better.
An essential part of being able to tap into your sisu, the inner strength reserve you have but may not be aware of, is silencing all the superfluous noise. Declutter your mind through meditation, prayer, deep breathing exercises or simply spending some time in nature. You’ll be surprised at how clear and calm your thinking will become.
Extracted from Sisu by Joanna Nylund (Octopus Books)
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