Can you run 50 Marathons in 50 Days? The Queen of Sisu Can!

It sounds impossible – but of course it´s not. Some 75% of the 1.500 miles in total have been conquered already. By whom?

By Emilia Lahti. Emilia is a fellow Penn Mappster and has embarked on a truly remarkable journey at the beginning of this year: On January 18th, she started a 1,500-mile / 50-day running journey across the length of New Zealand. Her goal: to raise awarenss for nonviolence and peace. Ph.D. student Emilia is survivor of domestic violence and has initiated this project (“Sisu not Silence” to raise awareness around this neglected issue. In her words:

Much like running a thousand miles, healing from past trauma and impacting social change are also trials of endurance that begin by taking one step at a time. The key to overcoming goals that may seem impossible is to aim for relentless forward movement – no matter how slow the pace may feel at times.

You can follow her progress (and support her) via her homepageFacebook, and Instagram. Go, Emilia!

Emilia Lahti | Sisu not Silence

Hardiness: How to run 50 Marathons in 50 Days

lahti_sisuIf you’ve visited Mappalicious in the past, you might have encountered Emilia Lahti, a fellow Penn Mappster from Finland. Currently, she’s in the process of writing her Ph.D. on Sisu, which is a Finnish word for the concept of strong determination and hardiness in the face of severe adversity. It´s an integral part of the Finnish culture and belongs to a set of untranslatable words that researcher Tim Lomas has written about.

Now, ever so often research is actually me-search. Emilia is a victim of domestic abuse and has started a project to raise awareness around this crucial issue. In 2017, she’s going to run 1,500 miles across New Zealand in 50 days – that’s roughly a marathon per day. She will perform this outstanding feat to support her initiative “Sisu not Silence”. If you´d like to find out more about this and maybe even donate, you can learn more here.

Today, Emilia was featured in an awesome video on NowThis. Go have a look…


3 Questions for Angela Duckworth, Author of “Grit”

Angela_DuckworthA few weeks ago, Penn professor Angela Duckworth has published her first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. And while she´s typically busy shipping exceptional research, giving TED presentations, or talking to the New York Times, it says a lot about her character that she also takes the time to answer some questions for my little blog thingy. So, thank you, Angela!

What are you up to these days? Just kidding… What does it feel like to have published a bestseller? And what part did grit play in the process of writing up “Grit”

I’m devoting myself to Character Lab, a nonprofit I founded with educators Dave Levin and Dominic Randolph three years ago. The mission of Character Lab is to advance the science and practice of character development. This includes helping children develop intrapersonal strengths like grit and self-control but also interpersonal strengths like gratitude and pro-social purpose and, finally, intellectual strengths like curiosity and open-minded thinking.

While I’m thrilled with the success of the book, I can also tell you that my attention is entirely on the future and new challenges. And, as for grit while writing Grit? Writing this book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I almost quit many times. So, yes, I used my grit to do it, and I learned a lot about grit in the process!

You´re incredibly successful as a researcher, but also as an educator, first via your TED talk, and now with the book. Clearly, a lot people are intrigued by the concept of grit. Still, I’ve read a couple of articles that give pushback to the concept for allegedly ignoring the socio-economic factors that lead to success in school and life in general. What’s your take on this?

At a recent conference, I sat down next to a sociologist. She knew my work, and it didn’t take long for her to express extreme disdain—even anger—for what she called the grit message. “What’s that,” I asked? “Well, put it this way,” she said. “I happen to think that poverty and inequality matter a heck of a lot more than grit.” I thought for a moment. Then I said, “I see your point.”

If you pit grit against structural barriers to achievement, you may well decide that grit is less worthy of our attention. But I think that’s the right answer to the wrong question.

Caring about how to grow grit in our young people—no matter their socio-economic background—doesn’t preclude concern for things other than grit. For example, I’ve spent a lot of my life in urban classrooms, both as a teacher and as a researcher. I know how much the expertise and care of the adult at the front of the room matter. And I know that a child who comes to school hungry, or scared, or without glasses to see the chalkboard, is not ready to learn. Grit alone is not going to save anyone.

But the importance of the environment is two-fold. It’s not just that you need opportunity in order to benefit from grit. It’s also that the environments our children grow up in profoundly influence their grit and every other aspect of their character. This is the grit message in my words:

Grit may not be sufficient for success, but it sure is necessary.

If we want our children to have a shot at a productive and satisfying life, we adults should make it our concern to provide them with the two things all children deserve: challenges to exceed what they were able to do yesterday and the support that makes that growth possible.

So, the question is not whether we should concern ourselves with grit or structural barriers to achievement. In the most profound sense, both are important, and more than that, they are intertwined.

I’ve pursued and completed a Ph.D. but the truth is: I entirely lost interest in the topic after the first year. Still, I hung in there for another 3.5 years for reasons that the founders of Self-Determination Theory, Ryan and Deci, would probably call “externally regulated”. And while I suffered emotionally during that time, I now do enjoy the upsides that having a Ph.D. entails at times. Was that grit? Or “stupid grit”? Or just stupid?

Good question. I might have asked myself, “Why am I pursuing this Ph.D.?” And in response, what would you have said? The answer gives you a higher-order goal—the “why” that gives meaning to the Ph.D. Was there a way to pivot in terms of your topic or research to achieve that higher-order goal?

And, in terms of pure interest, is there an adjacent topic to the one your pursued that you would have enjoyed more?* Interest and purpose are the drivers of passion, and I think if there is really no interest and no sense of purpose, you need not feel the compulsion to finish what you started.

Thank you, Angela – and best of luck with your book and the Character Lab!

Grit_DuckworthDr. Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies non-IQ competencies, including self-control and grit, which predict success both academically and professionally.

Prior to pursuing a career in academia, Angela was a McKinsey consultant and, for five years, a math teacher in several public schools. In 2013, she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow. Very recently, Angela has published her first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance with Scribner. It was an instant New York Times best seller and remains on the best seller list today.

* The truth is: When you don´t want to work on your Ph.D., you start to put a lot of time and energy in other things, just to have your calendar really, really stuffed as an excuse. For me, this led to discovering Positive Psychology in the first place, which then led to studying at Penn, which led to meeting Angela.

This is one of my learnings: Whether something is truly good or bad for us should probably not be judged in the moment. It often takes a couple of years to connect the dots and see the real value of our life´s episodes.

On Grit and Perseverance: How many Times will you try?

This is yet another fantastic infographic by Anna Vital from Funders and Founders. Now, I don´t know if each and everyone of those numbers on the chart is absolutely correct – but then, this is not the point anyway.

The crucial message is: Live will try to screw you, and then try to screw you all over again. In most domains, it´s not the smartest or most talented people that will succeed at the end of the day. It´s the ones that are willing to walk the proverbial extra mile (which sometimes is a thousand extra miles to be more precise…).


I very much know this from my own life. You´re working hard on a project, you´re almost finished – and suddenly something happens: Your computer kills a full day´s work, an important stakeholder withdraws, or you just get really, really sick. I firmly believe this is a sort of test. In these moments, “life” wants to know what we´re made of. “It” wants us to say “I won´t back down, come hell or high water!”

And actually, all of us do have this quality to some extent. It´s the way we learned to walk on our own two feet…

Honoring the Forefathers: Abraham Maslow and the Quest for Self-Actualization

Abraham_MaslowA couple of days ago, I shared some memorable quotes coined by Viktor Frankl whom most people consider to be the biggest influence on research related to meaning in life (and work).

Today, I´d like to honor another luminary, the person who actually coined the term Positive Psychology in the 1950s: Abraham Maslow, probably best-known for his hierarchy of needs framework (mostly depicted as the “pyramid of needs” you´ll find in a lot self-help and management books).

Here are some of his most intriguing thoughts:

Abraham Maslow on Self-Actualization

It looks as if there were a single ultimate goal for mankind, a far goal toward which all persons strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that person can be.


We fear our highest possibilities. We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments, under conditions of great courage. We enjoy and even thrill to godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.

Abraham Maslow on Purpose in Life

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.

Abraham Maslow on Other-Orientation

The needs for safety, belonging, love relations and for respect can be satisfied only by other people, i.e., only from outside the person. This means considerable dependence on the environment. A person in this dependent position cannot really be said to be governing himself, or in control of his own fate. He must be beholden to the sources of supply of needed gratifications. […] He must be, to an extent, “other-directed,” and must be sensitive to other people’s approval, affection and good will.


The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard.

Abraham Maslow on Perseverance and Post-Traumatic Growth

Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of over-protection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and the intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual.


One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

Abraham Maslow on Appreciation, Awe, and Gratitude

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy.

Abraham Maslow on Mindfulness

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.

10 fantastic Quotes by William James that preview Positive Psychology

Philosopher William James is often portrayed as being the founding father of modern (American) psychology. Here, I collected ten of his quotes that show he’s also been an influence for many theories and practices that are among the cornerstones of Positive Psychology.

On self-efficacy and solution-focused thinking

Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.

On creating habits

To change one’s life:
1. Start immediately.
2. Do it flamboyantly.
3. No exceptions.

On optimism, pessimism, and rumination

If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system.

On the value of attention and mindfulness

Each of us literally chooses, by his way of attending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.

On belief systems and disputation of negative thoughts

To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.

On perseverance, grit, and sisu

In exceptional cases we may find, beyond the very extremity of fatigue distress, amounts of ease and power that we never dreamed ourselves to own, sources of strength habitually not taxed at all, because habitually we never push through the obstruction, never pass those early critical points.

On finding purpose and vitality

Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.

On meaning, altruism, and the greater good

The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.

On the value of positive relationships

Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world.

On hope, best future selves, and callings

Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them.
 William  James 

3 “Original” Questions for Wharton´s Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton Business School and also teaches in the Master of Positive Psychology program at Penn. His new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World has recently been published. It´s about creativity and how we all can bring daring ideas to life.


Adam_Grant_Quote_1Adam, you’re a scientist. According to philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts it’s particularly tough to be original in this domain because your own community might be incentivized to hold bold ideas down. What’s your (give and) take on this?

When I first read Kuhn as a freshman in college, I was stunned by his argument that major scientific advances don’t take hold until a generation of old scientists clinging to old theories literally dies out. At the time, I believed him, but now I think he was only partially right. In many scientific fields, it’s extremely difficult to publish work that doesn’t challenge the status quo. We want to discover new knowledge, not replicate existing knowledge. There may be a small group of gatekeepers who are invested in their pet theories, but the larger scientific community favors fresh insights. Why, then, do so many scientists face opposition to their oppositional ideas? Building on what I wrote in chapter 2 of Originals, my bet is that it’s less about incentives and more about cognitive entrenchment: scientists become so convinced of prevailing theories that they literally have a hard time seeing alternative possibilities. Look at Einstein: after ushering in his revolutionary ideas about relativity, he resisted the quantum revolution in physics. “To punish me for my contempt for authority,” Einstein reflected, “fate made me an authority myself.”

Adam Grant - OriginalsCultures may vary significantly as to the extent they value non-conformism and standing out. I´m German – we´re a decidedly Western society but still, I feel, the general public adheres to “being sensible and staying with the flock”. What´s your advice here for the “dreamers and the doers”?

The more a culture values conformity, the more important it becomes to master the art of tempered radicalism.

First, make your unfamiliar ideas more familiar by connecting them to things that people already understand – like pitching The Lion King as “Hamlet with lions” or Warby Parker as “We’re going to do for glasses what Zappos did for shoes.”
Second, instead of trying to convince other people to change their values, show them how your idea appeals to values they already hold.
Third, reframe following you as an act of conformity by leveraging the power of social proof: show them that other people like them are already on board with your idea.
And fourth, don’t forget that there’s often more variance within cultures as between them. Find the bright spots, as Chip and Dan Heath say in Switch.  Then, to borrow a term from Jane Dutton, build a micro-community of people who embrace originality.

Adam Grant - QuoteFrom the author´s perspective: What´s the most original chapter in “Originals” – and why?

In form, I think chapter 3 is the most original. I had great fun building in a surprise that I will not spoil here. In content, I’d say the most contrarian ideas are in chapter 5, where I argue that common goals drive groups apart instead of binding them together (this helps to explain why vegans hate vegetarians even more than they dislike meat eaters) and revealing your purpose can make you less persuasive (this is why Elon Musk didn’t start SpaceX by telling people he wanted to go to Mars).


Thanks a lot, Adam – and best of luck with your new book!