Sisu is the latest Nordic phenomenon to enter the global stage. It is an ancient Finnish concept that stands for courage, resilience, determination and inner strength. The word itself derives from the Finnish word for guts, so in a manner of speaking, having sisu is to have guts. But it is broader than that. Finns compliment each other on having sisu in a variety of different situations and we think of it as this all-encompassing attitude that we can tap into whenever a little extra push is needed.
Arguably the most empowering of the Nordic word exports, sisu is an action mindset. It is a highly prized quality that nevertheless lies within reach of everyone. Here’s how…
Finding your focus
Our daily lives easily run the risk of being fragmented, and we often find our attention being pulled in all directions at once. In order to find your inner sisu, your core strength, you need to turn that attention inwards.
1. Schedule alone time
Take some time out of your day – twenty minutes, if you can, but even five will make a difference – and do precisely nothing. In silence. Don’t distract yourself with anything. How do you feel? Most likely you’ll at first find your thoughts swarming around like agitated bees, but give it a few minutes and they will settle. What is going on? What thoughts, anxieties, worries come to the surface? Can you pinpoint a dominating emotion that you weren’t necessarily aware of? Sometimes just stopping and acknowledging where you are mentally can help you redirect your energy.
2. Go into nature
Finland is blessed with a lot of unspoilt nature and Finns love to spend time in it. Aside from walking, hiking, skiing and the like, we also try to make it part of our everyday lives by biking to work or going for a post-lunch stroll. Nature has an incredible grounding effect and works anti-depressant magic on our minds.
Try to find a secluded nature spot somewhere close to where you live or work. Retreat there whenever you need to clear your mind. Practice a little nature mindfulness: close your eyes. Breathe. Listen. Sense, smell, and touch the world around you. Before long, you will find that your heart rate has come down and your thinking has cleared.
3. Cut out distractions
With more and more studies showing just how addictive social media is, it’s probably true that most of us would need less of it in our lives. Try rationing it during the day, or take a day a week when you rest from it completely, discovering for yourself what impact that has on your focus and inner calm.
Learn to Set a Goal and Keep it
From New Year’s promises to vowing to get into shape by summer, most of us are no strangers to setting goals. It’s keeping them that usually proves tricky! For my book, I probed the minds of some successful “goalkeepers”, and below are a few of their secrets to really making it happen.
1. Be realistic
Bold goals are fine, but they need to lie within the realm of possibility – otherwise you will quickly be disappointed. Set a clearly defined goal that is actually achievable in reality, not just in your dreams.
2. Mark the milestones
Now that you’ve set your goal, the next step is to chop it down into smaller, manageable parts. If your ultimate aim is to run a marathon but right now you are struggling to make two miles without stopping, just work on that to start with. With patience, your stamina will build.
3. Prepare well
With 1) and 2) in mind, think hard about what needs to happen in order for you to reach your goal. Do you need to schedule your workouts the way you would a meeting? (Probably.) What tasks do you need to get out of the way first? If being accountable to someone helps you, who do you need to tell about your goal? From time to time we all get tempted to choose instant gratification over long-term reward; that’s why it’s so important to have structures in place. In moments of weakness, they will bolster our resolve.
Sisu stands for fairness, justice, honesty and respect. We think of it as an inner core of integrity that guides our actions and interactions with other people. Communicating sisu-style means being direct and honest – while always remaining respectful. For more openness in your private relationships, consider the pointers below.
1. Be an active listener
In Finland, people tend to make room for silences in conversation. This is seen as a sign of ultimate respect – I consider what you have said before I reply, really giving it some thought. Being a good listener also means not interrupting the speaker. Unhurried conversations that don’t involve having to breathlessly compete for the space to talk can produce some amazing results!
2. Be honest
As kindly as you can, always be honest. Politeness is a wonderful virtue as long as it doesn’t prevent necessary truth from being spoken. The truth may hurt, but it’s vital to a healthy relationship.
3. Be respectful (always)
The art of agreeing to disagree is at risk of dying out in our current climate of debate. When mutual respect underpins the conversation, however, there is virtually no end to the number of difficult topics we can tackle. What is key is hearing each other out (again, without interrupting) and all the while remembering to make a distinction between the person and their opinions. Most of the time, thinking differently about things does not have to spell the end of a relationship.
Raise Resilient Kids
Instilling sisu in your child means empowering them to trust their own ability. The sisu way is not about giving empty praise but fostering authentic self-belief. It is important not to shield your child from disappointments, but make sure you are there to support them through it.
1. Give responsibility
Being responsible for something, however small, fosters independence. Cleaning their rooms, walking the dog, taking the rubbish out – these are all simple tasks that will give your kids a sense of involvement in the household and show them the importance of their own contribution.
2. Find enjoyment in discomfort
Finnish parents like to gently coax their kids to go outside in all weathers. This fosters a certain hardiness that doesn’t let a little discomfort get in the way of a good time. The following is true for adults, too: overcoming your primary inclination to stay on the couch really makes you feel great about yourself afterwards.
3. Let nature co-parent
Following on from the above, let your children do a little exploring on their own. Kids run the risk of being passive recipients of entertainment rather than creating their own. Playing outside, in a safe environment, sparks their natural inquisitiveness and lets their imagination run wild.
Joanna Nylund is the author of ‘SISU – The Finnish Art of Courage’, which is out now on Gaia