Blog post: Finding the limit and reaching beyond – Many forms of sisu

WODconnect blog 26 Apr 2018

Photo: Jan-Markus Helin / ig: @jammarx

Imagine a situation where you face extreme hardships. You have done everything you can and reached your limit. By now you know you have nothing more to give. There’s no hope. This is too much. You are done.

Then, suddenly, you decide not to stop. You sense something in you that you didn’t feel before.

Even though there’s no chance to make it, you still go for it. There’s a sudden energy burst and you take an action. Finally, against all odds, you make it.

That could be one way to describe what sisu means.

Sisu: 500-year old Finnish word

For many Finns the meaning of sisu is quite clear. It can be exlained as ”grit” or ”perseveilance”. But yet, there’s still more.

Sisu is actually also an area of study. Researcher Emilia Lahti has listed three descriptive definitions of sisu:

  1. An extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity.
  2. An action mindset, which enables individuals to reach beyond their present limitations, take action against all odds and transform barriers into frontiers.
  3. An integral element of Finnish culture and universal capacity which we all share.   I agree, that the true meaning of sisu can be understood universally – and specially by CrossFit community.

Living sisu legend

When you ask any crossfitter, who they think of when they hear the word sisu, the answer is quite likely Mikko Salo.

Mikko Salo is a CrossFit Games winner 2009 and well-known for his work ethic and also for perseverance and grit. WODconnect has released first two parts of Mikko Salo trilogy.

”The man doesn’t make too much noise about himself, but does the work and gets what he earns.”

Salo has the courage to seek his limits. And yet, still does the work humble. Salo is calm on the outside, but great power lies beneath the surface. Salo shows that you can’t see sisu, besides in actions. ”You get what you earn” is also Salo’s The System –programming slogan.

In order to grow your knowledge, you need to find your limits. But to become mentally stronger, you need to reach beyond your limits. That’s what makes the difference between sisu and other things. According to Lahti, ”sisu begins where perseverance and grit end”.

The base for inspiration

In my opinion, sisu state-of-mind can be seen among CrossFit community. As a CrossFit coach I see many kind of people from different backgrounds reaching beyond their limitations and barriers that they think they have.

A great thing is that empowering feeling lasts also after the workout. People leave the box so that they have mentally changed. They are stronger. They know, that there’s more in them than before. I’m not saying that sisu is seeing silver lining in everything or that it’s common everyday life. Sisu is special form of conquering difficulties. And you don’t have to be the fittest to have sisu. You can be strong in another ways.

For example freestyle skier Pekka Hyysalo was badly injured in ski acident in 2009 and suffered severe brain injury. He recovered extremely well and learned how to walk again. Hyysalo now works with his FightBack brand inspiring others to enjoy sports and life.

Inspiring stories can also be found among our nearest friends and family members. You yourself can have a story of how you faced something that you were able to go through even tough the odds were all against you. The experience changed you somehow. It gave you courage and mental strengh.

More sisu around you

It’s a common misconseption, that sisu is something some of us are born with. Actually you can train your mental toughness like you can train your muscles. Bit by bit and with time.

Another mistake is to think, that toughness must be learned alone. Of course the action must be made by you, but it does not mean that there must be no one to help or near you. As a coach, I cannot urge mental toughness in others. Lahti remarks, that we should think how we can act so that more sisu around us is possible.

After all, the most important question isn’t how you can grow your own sisu. It’s how we can help others to go through hardships? How can we increase the amount of sisu in our community?

The thing that has always made CrossFit so special for me, is that this ”sisu- increasing process” is happening already.

In CrossFit your background, your age, your fitness or skill-level doesn’t matter. The community cheers and lifts it’s members above their level. CrossFit Open workouts are good example. People around the world are doing the same workouts than the fittest ones. Basic crossfitter of course scales the movements, but it doesn’t matter. As long as you are putting effort and doing your best, you are awarded by community’s support. And because of that support many more people are able to go beyond their limits.

Be brave and be kind

Some of us might think, that if you want to grow your mental toughness, you have to be super hard and punish yourself. And perhaps be angry and self-centered so that everyone is scared of you.

You can be brave, humble and kind to people and to yourself at the same time.

Emilia Lahti states, that ”true mental toughness is grounded in self-compassion (something that at first may seem like the polar opposite of sisu)”.

When you have the nerve to be vulnerable, you show some true courage. Then you also know how to be compassionate towards others.

Rising above your level is many times possible because of supportive community. I hope that people see that, when they come for today’s WODs, and take that attitude outside the CrossFit box aswell. That they are willing to accept themselves and other people, see the effort and help others to go throught hardships. There’s more in all of us than meets the eye.

Don’t be afraid. Go for it.

Elina Knaapi