Are You Tougher Than You Think?

Michelle McQuaid


Do you wonder what might happen if your life was suddenly turned upside down?  Unfortunately, life can sometimes take a turn for the worse. Sometimes it happens in the blink of an eyelid – the loss of a loved one, an unexpected redundancy, a serious injury or illness, or a community tragedy that touches you deeply. Or it can happen much more slowly such as a destructive relationship that undermines your confidence and wellbeing. How confident are you that you can navigate your way through these kinds of challenges?


“We are all capable of exceeding ourselves during times of significant stress or adversity,” said Emilia Lahti, a researcher and social activist, when I interviewed her recently. “By tapping into the deep resources and energy that we may not have realised even existed.”


Emilia calls this phenomenal Sisu. Sisu is a 500-year old Finnish construct, relating to mental toughness and the ability to endure significant stress while taking action against seemingly impossible odds. It doesn’t apply to the everyday hassles you may experience, but rather helps you deal with significant adversities and tough challenges. It’s about finding that extra source of energy to help you keep going even though you feel exhausted and depleted.

Different from grit and resilience, William James, the father of modern American psychology, likened this latent source of power as your second wind.

While grit is maintaining your passion and perseverance over a period of time to pursue your long-term goals, Sisu is more about short intense bursts of extraordinary strength and courage to stretch yourself beyond your capacities and help you overcome tough obstacles or breach difficult gaps. Whereas resilience is being able to bounce back from adversity or stress, sometimes you need Sisu to keep fighting the undercurrents before you get to this moment.

Emilia acknowledges though that getting through adversity isn’t an easy process. You may need time to heal and access to good resources and social support. “When you are taking action against the odds and stretching yourself to your limits, it may seem like there’s no progress at times,” says Emilia. “But as long as you keep taking one step at a time, however small, eventually you can reach your destination.” Research suggests it is possible to experience post-traumatic growth, whereby you grow and become stronger, not despite your adversities, but because of them.


What can you do to nurture more Sisu in your workplace?

Emilia offers five suggestions for developing your capacity to tap into Sisu at work:

  • Build psychological safety – the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake is critical for fostering more Sisu in workplaces. Psychological safety can give you the space to speak your mind and stand up for what is important, be innovative and take action despite the risk of failing or making mistakes.
  • Adopt an action mindset – rather than shying away from challenges, when you demonstrate Sisu you have a consistent and courageous approach of taking action in the face of stress or adversity, despite your fears and uncertainties. It involves having a growth mindset where you see potential failure as an opportunity to learn, grow and continually improve.
  • Recall moments of Sisu – the negativity bias we all have, means that it’s easier to recall the times when you haven’t coped or things haven’t gone well. Overcome your inner critic by taking the time to consider a tough time in your past, when you exceeded your expectations to get through. Write this down and use it when you need to remind yourself that you have a good track record of overcoming adversity.
  • Reach out to others – sometimes when you’re struggling in a dark place you may find it difficult to ask for help. However, it’s not always possible to do it alone, and by reaching out to others you can gain power by having your strength and courage reflected back to you from someone else’s eyes.
  • Create space for Sisu in others – so they can also tap into their inner energy and power to reach their best potential. Use genuine compassion when your colleagues are going through tough times to recognise their suffering as part of what we all share to be human, and respond in ways to understand or alleviate their pain.


What could you draw on to be more courageous in the face of stress or adversity?


Looking for more information to start your wellbeing journey? Contact Drake today on 13 14 48  or visit us at au.drakeintl.com.



Discover how Drake International’s portfolio of Talent Management Solutions solves your people, productivity, and performance issues.

Visit us at au.drakeintl.com



81% of Australian Workers Report Increased Levels ...

Michelle McQuaid

Research by The Wellbeing Lab and the Australian HR Institute has found that 81% of Australian workers are reporting increased levels of struggle since the start of 2020, with their mental health, money management and work changes their biggest challenges.

Read more


10 Tips to Writing Job Ads in a Candidate Tight Ma...

Drake Editorial

In a candidate tight market, attracting talent can seem like an impossible task, but it doesn't have to be. One tool to help you in your hiring process is how you write your job ads. Here are 10 tips to help you write effective job ads in a candidate tight market.

Read more


Checklist to thriving through the holiday season

Drake Editorial

People who are in a healthy relationship talk to each other regularly and listen to each other too. There are endless benefits of being in a healthy relationship, on the mind, body and soul. Research has found that ineffective interactional processes between intimate partners are associated with distress, negative feelings, and dissolution in the relationship.

Read more


Why can’t I get a job? Top tips for success in you...

Drake Editorial

Have you applied for multiple roles but never heard anything back? Job hunting can be frustrating at the best of times, but it can be downright disheartening when you are constantly being passed over for jobs. We give you the key steps you need to help you identify your soft skills and the steps you can take to make your application stand out. 

Read more


The Millennial Workplace – How to Manage the Gener...

Drake Editorial

We’ve all heard the negative stereotypes about Millennials – they are lazy and don’t want to work hard, just to name two. With this cohort of the population making up nearly 50% of the workforce in 2020, it is more important than ever to debunk these stereotypes, and ensure that companies are effectively attracting, and retaining this talent pool to build a sustainable business for the future. 

Read more


The 10 Strengths You Need in Your Leaders Right No...

Drake Editorial

Leaders who have the personality traits and the abilities to develop resilient teams will positively influence financial outcomes and your overall organisational success.  Let us help you identify the best leaders for your business today. 

Read more