The conventional wisdom about "natural" talent is a myth. The real path to great performance is a matter of choice.
Even in purely mental work, the best performers observe themselves closely. They are able to monitor what is happening in their own minds and ask how it's going. Researchers call this metacognition - knowledge about your own knowledge, thinking about your own thinking. Top performers do this much more systematically than others do; it's an established part of their routine.
Metacognition is important because situations change as they play out. Apart from its role in finding opportunities for practice, it plays a valuable part in helping top performers adapt to changing conditions. When a customer raises a completely unexpected problem in a deal negotiation, an excellent businessperson can pause mentally and observe his own mental processes as if from outside: Have I fully understood what's really behind this objection? Am I angry? Am I being hijacked by my emotions? Do I need a different strategy here? What should it be?
Emphasis added by me.
The final element of the post-work phase is affected by all the others and affects them in turn. You've been through some kind of work experience - a meeting with your team, a trading session, a quarterly budget review, a customer visit. You've evaluated how it went. Now, how do you respond?
Odds are strong that the experience wasn't perfect; in fact, parts of it may have been unpleasant. In those cases, excellent performers respond by adapting the way they act, while average performers respond by avoiding those situations in the future. That stands to reason. Since excellent performers went through a sharply different process from the beginning, they can make good guesses about how to adapt. That is, their ideas for how to perform better next time are likely to work. So it's hardly surprising that they are more likely than average performers to repeat the experience rather than avoid it.
But where does the cycle start? Why do certain people put themselves through the years of intensive daily work that eventually makes them world-class great? This is the deepest question about great performance, and the researchers do not offer us a complete answer. We've reached the point where we must proceed by looking in the only place we have left: within ourselves. The answers depend on your response to two basic questions: What do you really want? And what do you really believe?
Emphasis added by me.
In regard to those two questions, I'm compelled to provide this excerpt from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:
"Where do you come from?"
"Got any family?"
She hesitated. "I guess so. In Buffalo."
"What do you mean, you guess so?"
"I walked out on them."
"I thought that if I ever was to amount to anything, I had to get away from them, clean away."
"Why? What happened?"
"Nothing happened. And nothing was ever going to happen. That's what I couldn't stand."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, they . . . well, I guess I ought to tell you the truth, Mr. Taggart. My old man's never been any good, and Ma didn't care whether he was or not, and I got sick of it always turning out that I was the only one of the seven of us that kept a job, and the rest of them always being out of luck, one way or another. I thought if I didn't get out, it would get me-I'd rot all the way through, like the rest of them. So I bought a railroad ticket one day and left. Didn't say good-bye. They didn't even know I was going." She gave a soft, startled little laugh at a sudden thought. "Mr. Taggart," she said, "it was a Taggart train."
"When did you come here?"
"Six months ago."
"And you're all alone?"
"Yes," she said happily.
"What was it you wanted to do?"
"Well, you know-make something of myself, get somewhere."
"Oh, I don't know, but . . . but people do things in the world. I saw pictures of New York and I thought" -- she pointed at the giant buildings beyond the streaks of rain on the cab window -- "I thought, somebody built those buildings -- he didn't just sit and whine that the kitchen was filthy and the roof leaking and the plumbing clogged and it's a goddamn world and . . . Mr. Taggart" -- she jerked her head in a shudder and looked straight at him -- "we were stinking poor and not giving a damn about it. That's what I couldn't take -- that they didn't really give a damn. Not enough to lift a finger. Not enough to empty the garbage pail. And the woman next door saying it was my duty to help them, saying it made no difference what became of me or of her or of any of us, because what could anybody do anyway!"
That's one way to start.