The Doldrums

Professor Ryuta Kawashima M.D. in Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain writes, At the onset of this training your brain function will improve somewhat steadily. However, you will probably hit a wall at a certain point. You may wonder why your results are not showing any improvement. But if you hang in there and continue your training a breakthrough will come and you will see your scores suddenly jump. If you are facing the doldrums, just remember that your brain is preparing for a leap.

The dictionary provides several explanations of the doldrums,
1. low spirits; a feeling of boredom or depression
2. a period of inactivity or state of stagnation
3. an equatorial ocean region of calms, sudden storms, and light  unpredictable winds.

The doldrums are often seen in a negative light, that something is wrong with us, and while the dictionary provides an explanation Kawashima’s note encourages us to see the doldrums in a different light, they are the forerunner of a breakthrough. Hang in, be patient and persist and rather than put yourself down and give up as is often the case when faced with the doldrums. See your doldrums in a positive light, rather than concern understand this period will pass, and is indicative of an imminent breakthrough.

The third explanation helps us understand the nature of the doldrums, calm, sudden storms and light unpredictable winds. Set your sail to pass through and gain the rewards of persistence.


Powerful Mentoring Tools

Mentoring Tool # 4 – Transitions

This illustration captures the experience of a person in the midst of a major transition such as redundancy, change of job, change of location, etc.

The diagram powerfully identifies the elements and stages of the person’s situation. It also provides encouragement by helping the person recognise that what they are experiencing is a normal part of adjusting to major transitions.

Once the experience is clarified and acknowledged then the person is more open to developing an action plan that will help the person move forward in character and capacity as they make the transition.

This illustration is adapted from Kath Donovan’s book, Growing Through Stress, which I mentioned with Mentoring Tool #1. As the title of the book suggests the illustration is useful when a person is clearly stressing as a result of their circumstances.

I generally take my time while I’m sketching the diagram to maximise the impact. I use words beginning with the letter “P” when listing the various aspects of the “Old Place.” These then translate to the “New Place”, new people, new procedures, etc.

I’m now not surprised when sketching the stick figure in the stormy sea that the discussion centres around feeling overwhelmed and the comment, “That’s not me. My head’s UNDER the water!”

The discussion can then move toward an action plan, “What are the things that could be done to help you get your feet on solid ground?”

Powerful Mentoring Tools

Mentoring Tool #3

The time management matrix developed by Stephen Covey is another powerful mentoring tool.

Essentially time management is a misnomer, the real issue is managing oneself. Time cannot be managed, each of us is given one day at a time to live. We decide how we are going to use each day.

The matrix as shown provides a valuable focus for a mentoring discussion particularly around the QUALITY quadrant. The matrix can be sketched on a piece of paper or on a paper serviette around coffee.
Organising around the QUALITY quadrant involves four decisive actions:

1. Identifying your key roles
2. Selecting two or three important goals related to each of these roles
3. Scheduling time in the week ahead to achieve the goals
4. Adapting daily

A fifth decisive action is delegation. Effective delegation is a high-leverage action. It opens up growth opportunities for people and the organisation.

Adapted from Stephen R Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989, The Business Library, Melbourne

Powerful Mentoring Tools

Mentoring Tool #2

This next illustration is a powerful tool to capture and convey the essence of the experience of a person under stress.

The illustration, which is based on a spiral, can be used in conjunction with Mentoring Tool #1 or on its own.

Step One:

After listening to the the person’s situation I ask if I can sketch out what I think they are experiencing.

The pictorial appearance of their experience generally generates further discussion and verification that the sketch is an accurate reflection…

Step Two:

I pause for a few moments then ask, ”What would it take for you to breakout of the spiral?” and insert the arrow breaking out of the spiral.

Again it is important to pause and not offer solutions rather allow time for the person to suggest their own ways of breaking the cycle…

The interesting aspect of this illustration is that while the downward spiral may have occurred over time once an action plan has been identified the person is on the way to breaking out. Their spirit is renewed and enthusiasm returns.

On asking the question, “How are you feeling or what are you thinking now?” the person will respond with something along the lines of, “I know my way forward now.”

Here’s to effective mentoring.

Powerful Mentoring Tools


I have found it helpful to build up a tool kit of illustrations in my consulting work with people in leadership and management.

My view is that management responsibility provides is an arena where the character of people is tested, revealed and shaped. Therefore the responsibility of the mentor extends to facilitating character and capacity building. Character and capacity are inter-related in terms of the management and leadership function.

The power of mentoring illustrations is in their simplicity. Their purpose is to capture and convey the essence of the manager’s or leader’s experience at the time. Once the experience is clarified and acknowledged then an action plan can be developed to help the person move forward in character and capacity.

Some of the illustrations I will mention in the coming weeks have been adapted from other sources and where possible I will acknowledge the source.

This first illustration is adapted from Kath Donovan’s book, Growing Through Stress. As the title of the book suggests the illustration is useful when a person is clearly stressed.

The illustration is based on the less than or greater than, depending on which way you read it, symbol used in mathematics. Maybe this is why I like the illustration, I was a mathematics teacher earlier in my career.

Step One:
After listening to the the person’s situation sketch the symbol on a sheet of paper and ask if they know what the symbol represents…

Step Two:
After some brief discussion of “six is less than seven” or “seven is greater than six” sketch in a stick figure and ask which direction are they headed…

On each occasion I have used this illustration the person responds with something similar to, “I’m headed to the left.” On admission of the direction discussion of stress-related symtoms can occur and be acknowledged. “I’m feeling overwhelmed.” “There’s a tightening in my chest.” “I don’t know what to to do.” “I haven’t got any options.” “I’m further to the left than that!”

Step Three:
The next question can be asked and illustrated at a timely point in the discussion, “What is it going to take for you to turn around?”

I generally pause before reinforcing the question with a second, “What are the options?” then at the “open” end of the sign, with discussion, begin to list the options in terms of the actions that are available to the person.

Kath Donovan in her illustration refers to Proverbs 4:18, The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day, explaining that ahead is an ever-expanding vision of God full of possibilities.

Here’s to effective mentoring.