Michelangelo's infinite patience

Action Through Inaction

Michelangelo once said, “genius is infinite patience.” A master trader understands this truth on many levels.

Infinite patience is essential to staying with the grind and surviving the long and arduous crucible of learning how to win in markets.

Infinite patience is a cornerstone of developing one’s self. To beat back our weak human desire for instant gratification and instead journey on — knowing that those who play the long game win.

Infinite patience is necessary to fully exploit the natural 90/10 power-law distribution of market returns.

Infinite patience is a powerful skill possessed by only the most disciplined and effective masters of their crafts.

In chess we have the obligation to move; there is no option to skip a turn if you can’t identify a direction that suits you. One of the great challenges of the game is how to make progress when there are no obvious moves, when action is required, not reaction. The great Polish chess master and wit Tartakower half-joking called this the “nothing to do” phase of the game. In reality, it is here that we find what separates pretenders from contenders.

The obligation to move can be a burden to a player without strategic vision. Unable to form a plan when there isn’t an immediate crisis, he is likely to try to precipitate a crisis himself and usually ends up damaging his own position. We learned from Petrosian that vigilant inaction is a viable strategy in chess, but the art of useful waiting takes consummate skill. What exactly do you do when there is nothing to do?

We call these phases “positional play” because our goal is to impose our position. You must avoid creating weaknesses, find small ways to improve your pieces, and think small — but never stop thinking. One tends to get lazy in quiet positions, which is why positional masters such as Karpov and Petrosian were so deadly. They were always alert and were happy to go long stretches without any real action on the board if it meant gaining a tiny advantage, and then another. Eventually their opponents would find themselves without any good moves at all, as if they were standing on quicksand.

In life there is no such obligation to move. If you can’t find a useful plan, you can watch television, stick with business as usual, and believe that no news is good news. Human beings are brilliantly creative at finding ways to pass time in unconstructive ways. At these times, a true strategist shines by finding the means to make progress, to strengthen his position and prepare for the inevitable conflict. And conflict, we cannot forget, is inevitable.

Garry Kasparov, How Life Imitates Chess

Markets are dominated by periods of time where there is “nothing to do.” Infinite patience is critical to navigating these periods, utilizing “vigilant inaction” to position ourselves for the inevitable periods of volatility.

Overtrading, taking profits too early, and seeking action in the markets are typical traits of an amateur.

Ask yourself:

Do you practice infinite patience?