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“Sisu” is a Finnish word that refers to a combination of courage, resilience, grit, tenacity, and perseverance. It is a term that is deeply ingrained in Finnish culture and is often used to describe the Finnish national character. The concept of sisu has been around for centuries, but it was popularized in the early 20th century by a Finnish author and journalist named Arvi Kariston. He defined sisu as “extraordinary determination and courage in the face of adversity.”

The concept of sisu is often associated with the idea of “stoic determination” and the ability to push through difficult situations. It is a quality that is highly valued in Finland and is seen as a key factor in the country’s success in areas such as sports, business, and politics. For example, in sports, sisu is often cited as the reason for Finland’s success in winter sports such as cross-country skiing and ice hockey. In business, sisu is seen as a key factor in the success of Finnish companies such as Nokia and Rovio (the creator of Angry Birds).

Sisu is also used in everyday life, for example, when someone is facing a difficult personal or professional situation, or when someone is facing a physical or mental challenge. It is the “extra mile” attitude, the willingness to endure and overcome obstacles, to keep going even when things get tough.

The character trait of sisu played a crucial role in helping the Finnish people defeat the Russian invasion during the Winter War of 1939-1940. Despite being vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Russian forces, the Finnish people were able to put up a fierce resistance.

The Finns were able to use their knowledge of the terrain and the harsh winter conditions to their advantage, launching surprise attacks and using guerrilla tactics to slow down the Russian advance. They were able to hold out for longer than expected, despite the fact that the Russian forces had superior numbers and equipment.

The Finnish soldiers were also able to maintain a high level of morale, even in the face of heavy losses and difficult conditions. They were motivated by a strong sense of national pride and a determination to defend their homeland. They were also able to draw on the support of the civilian population, who were willing to make sacrifices and work together to support the war effort.

Additionally, the Finnish leadership was able to use their sisu to make difficult decisions, such as ordering the evacuation of entire towns and villages in order to deny the Russian forces supplies and resources, and to create a scorched-earth policy.

Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museums


Some ideas for cultivating the Finnish trait of sisu:

  • Setting and achieving goals: Setting challenging goals for oneself and working towards achieving them can help develop sisu. It helps individuals to work towards something, to overcome obstacles and to persevere in the face of adversity.
  • Mindfulness and self-reflection: Practicing mindfulness and self-reflection can help to cultivate sisu by helping individuals to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, and to develop the ability to control them. This can help individuals to stay calm and focused in the face of adversity, and to maintain their determination and perseverance.
  • Physical exercise: Regular physical exercise can help to cultivate sisu by building physical and mental resilience. It can also help individuals to develop a sense of confidence and self-efficacy, which can in turn help them to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity.
  • Embracing failure: Failure is a natural part of life and embracing it, learning from it and moving on can help to cultivate sisu. Failure can be a powerful tool for personal growth, and can help individuals to develop a more resilient attitude towards adversity.
  • Building a support system: Surrounding oneself with supportive people, whether it’s friends, family or coaches, can help to cultivate sisu. They can provide encouragement and inspiration, and can help to keep individuals motivated and focused during difficult times.

Further reading:


Will Bachman, based on suggestion from Antti Renko