In this episode I share some of the background to the very early days of researching sisu, what the word means, and I present the idea of using the upcoming podcast series as a journey into your own sisu.
If you wish, prepare by getting a special notebook (for ease of access and retrieval of the tools) dedicated to collecting material, stories, best practices and other notes relevant to you to get intimate with your own sisu: what it means, where have you displayed it, what stands in its way, what has helped you in tough times in the past, and getting started with cultivating a daily practice for sisu. Learning to recognise sisu will offer a foundation for our ongoing (go at your own pace) inquiry that you're welcomed to join.
The 1st practice: Stories of sisu
Sisu is extraordinary determination in the face of adversity. Take a peaceful moment to look back at your life and note down deeply transformational, challenging moments you've encountered and overcome. Life events where you tapped into your ability to exceed your previously assumed capacities, found the courage to take action against extremely slim odds, or experienced almost a kind of "intestinal fortitude" that seems to be like "magic" (as some respondents my research described sisu) in that helped you "do the impossible."
The human brain is evolutionarily wired for survival and notice what doesn't work and where we feel we have failed (this is called the negativity bias and its function is to provide us with information that can help us stay alive. However, it does this at the expense of the positive cues and what has gone well). Rick Hanson, PhD, describes that the effects of negativity bias may include a growing sensitivity to stress, upset, and other negative experiences; a tendency toward pessimism, regret, and resentment; and a long shadows cast by old pain.
This assignment invites you to notice the moments in your past and present when you have found the strength to go on and have tapped into what the Finns call sisu. Every individual has sisu. The challenge is that we may we prone to fail at noticing these moments and our view of ourselves may be skewed to lack of sisu, instead of welcoming a full picture of ourselves.
Links to topics in the show:
First research paper on sisu: mapping its essences and cultural representations. Lahti, E. (2019). Embodied fortitude: An introduction to the Finnish construct of sisu. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(1), 61-82.
Microbiome and behaviour. Researchers have been able to influence the brain chemistry of mice by changing the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in their gut, thereby leading it to become bolder (Bercik et al., 2011) and less anxious (Bravo et al., 2011). When Bercik and his research team (Bercik et al., 2011) transplanted gut microbiota between different strains of mice, they discovered that behavioural traits would transmit along with the microbiota. The recipient animals would take on traits of the donor's personality and relatively timid mice would become more exploratory.
Bercik et al. (2011). The intestinal microbiota affect central levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor and behavior in mice. Gastroenterology, 141(2), 599-609.
Bravo, J. A.. et al. (2011). Ingestion of lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(38), 16050-16055.