Resiliency is good but “sisu” is even better!

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Resiliency keeps popping up in my feed on LinkedIn. And the definition of resiliency is straightforward in Merriam-Webster:

  1. the ability of something to return to its original size and shape after being compressed or deformed.
  2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.

As a Finnish-American person (from the Swedish-speaking part of the tribe), the word sisu was part of my language growing up. Hockey teams in the US had already begun to adopt the word already back in the late 1980s/90s as Finnish hockey players invaded the NHL. So, many hockey fans will immediately recognize the word.

Yes, resiliency is good.

And sisu is even better!

However, the definition of sisu is much harder to pin down. This is because sisu is a Finnish word and trying to get a clear English equivalent is a challenge, if not impossible.

From the link above (to the Wikipedia article) we learn that:

  1. “Sisu is extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It expresses itself in taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity; in other words, deciding on a course of action, and then adhering to it even if repeated failures ensue.”
  2. Sisu even has its own emoji.

While resiliency is included in the idea of sisu, the meaning of sisu is much more than just mere resiliency.

Resiliency isn’t even possible if you have not actively built-up reserves in the following five (5) areas:

  1. Spiritual / Emotional
  2. Mental
  3. Physical
  4. Social
  5. Financial

In Guerilla Leadership we have several triangles that communicate this at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

The individual triangle is a key part of how we work with people, and it looks like this:

1. Spiritual and Emotional Reserves

First, there is a spiritual component to the concept of sisu. It goes to the core of the person. Finns will recognize this as intuitively obvious. But for most people in the west, this is no longer the case.

That is why I include Vision and emotions with your spirit in the center of the triangle since those are at the heart of who you are, individually. Zig Ziglar in his sales training back in the late 1970s and early 80s taught that you needed to build up your Spiritual Reserves. Failure to do so could wipe you out (see page 138 in his classic book, “Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale”).

For example, passion can be good, but without a Vision towards which to focus that passion you can quickly drive into a ditch and negatively impact the other areas of your life. Having misdirected passion is like being a cross-eyed discus thrower: they’re not very accurate but they keep the crowd on their toes.

Sir Winston Churchill may have captured the idea of sisu best in English with this famous quote during England’s darkest hour:

  • Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
    ― Winston Churchill

The genius of Churchill’s encouragement is that he transformed the usual acronym for FEAR: “Forget Everything And Run” (which can easily happen in the heat of battle) into “False Evidence Appears Real.” In doing so he confronted the brutal facts and gave his troops a new lens through which to view the adversity of their situation (both pragmatically and stoically) and the path to overcome their fear to win the day.

That’s sisu!

2. Mental Reserves

Mental grit, toughness, and tenacity are more necessary today than ever. It’s a mindset. And, although many people commit to lifelong learning, they often forget to “unlearn” the things that didn’t work or help them achieve their goals.

If you do not have the ability to make a new decision based on new information, then your capability(s) in your way(s) of thinking will be limited.

The acronym for FEAR in this area is “False Education Appearing Real.” Much of what we were taught isn’t usable in the real world of business. Understanding that we need to undo the damage requires a level of self-awareness and humility that is challenging.

And mental IQ and toughness needs to be tempered with the right level of emotional IQ, so all five areas influence and inform each other. You cannot change one without impacting the other four.

Sisu goes beyond being mentally tough since it’s the glue that holds all five areas together.

3. Physical Reserves

If something is not aligned in your life spiritually, emotionally, and/or mentally, then that will manifest itself physically. As a wise teacher once taught, “as a person thinks, that’s what they are.” Ideas have consequences. More gold has been mined from the minds of people than has ever been dug out of the ground.

Overcoming the stress life will throw us requires that we take care of our bodies. As we age, this becomes even more vital. Do you want to just survive, or do you want to thrive?

If you don’t have your health, then other things will quickly lose their importance. Either you take care of your body, or your body may revolt and put you in the hospital (against your will). And it may be a roll of the dice as to whether you survive that, or not.

Ok, so I know that it can be a challenge to find the time to work out. I struggle with that, too. What I am finding is that even if I don’t want to work out, I need to leverage the thoughts I have by shifting the way I think in small steps and a little at a time. Small batches. Frequent checks and measures. The bathroom scale is your friend. You get the idea.

This is one area in which sisu is indispensable! Dig deep. The motivation is still there. You need to hear its still, small whisper through all the noise in your life. The smallest of (sisu) sparks can start a forest fire.

4. Social Reserves

It is the rare individual who can obtain all that they desire in life without working with others. If you are Delivering a Product, Service, or Result to a client, then you are not living in isolation. To be successful and achieve all your goals, you need to be prepared to help enough other people to do the same.

Adversity separates the wheat from the chaff. It is when everything is up in flames around you that your faithful friends will reveal themselves.

No one escapes trauma in life.

The only question is if you have invested enough of yourself into relationships so that when the tough times mow you over like a tsunami that you have a network that can support and sustain you through your darkest hours.

This is what I call Relationship Capital. It may be the most valuable of all kinds of wealth, including health.

Sisu is a social contract that ignites the ability to step into higher performance and sustain everyone within the circle, through thick and thin. Especially in the VUCA world in which we live. And the cure for VUCA is, well, VUCA!

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5. Financial Reserves

If you have not built-up sufficient reserves in the first four areas, then that could manifest itself in financial ruin. So, drop all your façades and stop pretending in all five areas. You’re not fooling anyone except yourself.

Learn to budget and then live within that budget. Yes, I know it’s not a trendy way of living in today’s microwave mindsets of “I want it now!” There are TV shows about people that fall into the credit card and debt traps, and I am amazed at how people can quickly amass incredibly huge loans in what feels like a nanosecond.

Any coach or consultant that has survived in the game understands that you save for the times when you are sitting on the bench. Often it is either feast or famine. Building up a financial reserve requires an understanding that you have a big picture view for the long play.

My observation is that if you have sisu in the first four areas (in which you need to build reserves), then building adequate financial reserves takes care of itself.

A call to action

Do you want to learn how to create sustainable high performance at a personal level?

Invest some time in yourself and take all the mindsets (included in Guerilla Leadership) out of my books, blogs, training, and videos and start using them today! These will help you reach higher levels of excellence and performance: individually, as a team, in your product development as well as in your whole organization.

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