In praise of “training mode”

It me! (Circa 1997)

The summer of 1997 was perhaps the most frustrating of my (then extremely short) life.

My siblings, cousins and I were spending a winding few months at my grandparent’s straight-out-of-a-storybook house in Sussex, England.

However, despite all the usual delectable grandmotherly-made meals and enchanted back garden hideaways — I was eight years old andgrumpy AF.

What I know now is that I was stuck in that strange period of being “too old” for adults to intentionally lose foot races to me or gasp in awe of my terrible drawings, and “too young” to be genuinely good at… anything.

Between struggling to keep up with my big sister in my grandmother’s porcelain painting classes, and being repeatedly slaughtered in Nintendo 64 Super Smash Bros battles against my big brother and cousin, I eventually burst out in teary frustration one day:

STOPPPP! My hands can’t do that yet!”

Ah, the perils of being the youngest child.

The truth was, I was lacking wunderkind-level fine motor control. But when you’re a kid, you can’t reframe a lack of experience or natural talent into a learning opportunity. You just feel like you’ll be left behind forever.

And I hated it.

There was nothing I could do about the painting. My sister’s came out beautifully every time. Clean, curving lines that eased into stunning floral motifs. Just the right amount of paint. No smudges. Meanwhile, my tiny hands shook, smudged, and globbed. (I gave up after two days.)

But I was fed up. I was going to beat someone at something, fair and square.

The only question was: How?

Then, one rare day at home alone while the others were out, I switched on the N64 and scrolled through the Super Smash Bros menu settings.

The booming voice exploded out of the TV with the option I’d selected: “TRAINING MODE”.

I sat down, and for 2–3 hours, I sent my chosen character (Kirby) to attack incredibly slow-moving opponents, testing out moves and button combinations on my controller.

Bit by bit, the motions became familiar, as I began to train the muscle memory in my hands.

I remember feeling startled by the ease; how I suddenly didn’t have to think as hard, and could move faster and make deadly decisions in a split second.

Then, the sound of a car scraping through the driveway and my brother running through the foyer meant my time was up.

The playroom door burst open: “It’s my turn now!

He snatched the controller out of my hands and rapidly moved to set up a battle between him, my sister, and my cousin.

Ew, training mode?” he asked after spotting how I’d been playing. “That’s so boring.

My brother is the kindest, most patient person on earth — but kids will be kids.

I (probably) punched him in the arm and ran out of the room.

For the rest of the summer, however, I’d play in training mode when the others weren’t around.

I was fascinated by the way the controller became familiar in my hands until the movements became second nature, and the things I learned about Kirby’s skills and limitations with enough practice.

Sure, I could fly away from opponents… but if I wasn’t careful when I tried to slug them with a hammer, or turn into a brick and drop on top of them? I could send myself to an untimely death by crashing down the side of the screen.

As the weeks went on, I began to feel calmer and more focused during battles, instead of shrieking protestations against the merciless teasing of my siblings (and when I became a better fighter, the teasing stopped too.)

And eventually, before the summer was out… I beat the big kids a few times.

While you wouldn’t expect a video game from the late 90’s to teach such a valuable life lesson, I’ve been obsessed with training mode ever since.

Don’t get me wrong: I still hate being new or bad at things. (Which sucks, since I’m not naturally talented at much.)

I still fail a lot. (I never got good at porcelain painting, no matter how many summers my grandmother tried to teach me.)

There are still a wide range of things that will never be “my thing”.

But what remains true is my knowledge that if I just have the patience to sit with something enough, and practice, practice, practice?

Eventually I’ll figure it out, start getting it right, and — most importantly — begin to understand it on another level.

As I grew older, the power of “training mode” showed up everywhere; in the plays I performed and dance classes I took in high school and middle school, in my study habits in college, in the way I learned do my makeup and hair, even in the way I work out (shout out to Couch to 5k for being the ultimate “training mode” for newbie runners convinced they hate running).

And in business? It’s the reason I…

  • Offered my clients their first service free when I was starting out. (Not always the best idea, but it worked out even so.)
  • Tested out my intensive day rates in 2014 with existing clients for two months before offering them to new faces
  • Completed two full beta test rounds of my Wordshops course before launching it
  • Ran private hot seat coaching for clients for almost two years before bringing it to you inside The Lightning Rounds
  • Served up The Statement Piece Framework for free
  • Always spend weeks preparing and practicing my talks with my coach.
  • Offered up no less than 20 Statement Piece Session coaching/consulting spots at a much lower rate before revealing the service to the wider world.

That’s what “training mode” looks like for me as an entrepreneur.

It keeps me flexible enough to ditch the stuff that doesn’t work (like my grandma trying to turn me into a porcelain painter), and deepen my knowledge to maximize what does (like helping Kirby kick butt).

It gives me space to shape ideas and build my muscle memory, while also opening a channel for customer feedback.

It takes the pressure off, and gives me space to prove to myself that something works (that way when it comes promo time, I’m not just pulling sassy one-liners out of my butt.)

And while it doesn’t soak up all of the imposter syndrome, or all of pre-launch, “will-people-like-this?!?!” jitters? It does get rid of ~95% of ‘em.

But when it comes to my brand of training mode in business, some entrepreneurs have the same reaction my big brother did: “Ew.”

This is not to say all of their offers go untested, but I have been teased by my peers for:

  • Running too many test rounds
  • Pricing my “practice mode” too low
  • Spending too much time trying to double and triple check myself, I’m exhausted before I even launch

And honestly? There’s validity to that criticism.

While I’ll never boldly launch largely-untested $10k+ products based on my confidence and track record alone, there comes a moment when we must dare to step out of training mode, and jump into battle in the real world, too.

That’s a moment that sometimes passes me by once, twice, even three times before I feel ready to step out — so it’s important to remember that training mode also requires clear parameters and a “stop” point, or else you’ll test and tweak yourself into paralysis.

However, while most entrepreneurs know testing is the right thing to do we often have dreams so large and visions so big, building in time for training mode can feel like a burden.

But I want to launch this now

But I want to be first to market…

But I’ve sunk so much cash into this already I need to make my money back…

I get it, I do. The fact I routinely write most of my blogs in about 2 hours and hit “Publish” immediately is a testament to this.

Especially if you’re working on your first product or signature offer, it can feel like the best path is to build as well as you can, go straight to branding and launching so you can rake in the cash, and then make the fixes on the back end if you need ‘em.

But training mode gives you something quick money in the bank can’t: priceless confidence, a stronger “experienced expert” muscle, and guaranteed value and solutions for your market — which in turn helps you bolster a great reputation (which, let’s be real, is priceless).

As an added bonus, there are ways to keep training mode low cost for your business, and stillmake money. For example, you can:

  • Offer a minimum viable product first (← buzzword of the year right there.) Basically: the most basic, easy-to-build version of your new offer that allows you to test and get feedback on the idea
  • Run a short, lower-cost beta round of your course or program. (This you can teach live, record, transcribe, and turn into an evergreen product, too.)
  • Open 60-minute consult call spots to clients around the problem you’re trying to solve to gather intel, test your skill set and theories, and put some cash in your pocket.

Even better? These training mode options keep the first runs of your ideas low-pressure, and are also typically FAR quicker to launch than, say, a fully-branded signature offer or course.

So if you’ve got a big idea stirring?

Consider building up your muscle memory, clarity, and confidence first.

Consider testing small and fast so you can launch BIG.

Consider giving yourself space to find the fat that needs to be cut, and the best stuff worth expanding on.

Consider training mode.

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