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When trying to identify competitive advantages in life, we often look at the issue straight on. For example, we could outsmart our peers, be more creative than them, have better information, or just get luckier. All are possible, but may not be feasible or within our control. A different way to approach the issue is to think about what everybody (including you) is unwilling to do and why that is. In my opinion, this is a simple exercise that we can all learn a lot from.

Identifying what you’re unwilling to do is a journey all by itself. So often we pretend that we’re incapable of doing what we’re only unwilling to do. By my own definition, incapable means you can’t do something, while unwilling means you won’t. Sometimes there’s overlap between the two, but they’re usually different. Most of the things I’m only unwilling to do have three common traits: they’re uncomfortable, counter to my initial instincts, and I know deep down they’re probably good for me.

I’ve learned a lot about willpower through running. As a runner, you’re constantly challenged both physically and mentally. It’s important to be able to differentiate between being uncomfortable and actual pain. While you don’t want to push yourself to injury, you’re also not going to get very far remaining within your comfort zone.

Three ways I’ve become stronger as a runner all involve doing slightly uncomfortable, counter-instinctual things that I had a hunch would be beneficial. By continually going where I didn’t/don’t want to go, I’ve grown personally.

– Sprinting up hills – Uphill stretches are arguably the most physically taxing part of any running loop. Finding the willpower to maintain your effort, let alone take it up a notch, is exhausting. Accepting this mental and physical challenge is counter-instinctual, definitely uncomfortable, and has proven beneficial (as suspected).

– Running in cold/heat/wind – The weather can drastically affect how challenging a run is. I think that, within reason, exposing your runs to some uncomfortable weather is beneficial. Running into the wind is such a mind game. Heat amplifies how sweaty/dehydrated you’ll get and cold air burns to breathe. Managing the array of physical and mental challenges the weather presents can be tough. Again, counter-instinctual and uncomfortable, but beneficial: check, check, and check.

– Forced paces – Incorporating a “Fartlek” style run into my regimen has reaped both physical and mental rewards. On a “Fartlek” run you alternate between intervals of fast and slow running. I’ve found that the fast running pushes me to physical discomfort, while the slow running pushes me to mental discomfort. For somebody who likes running fast, running slow is torture, and for somebody who likes running slow, the opposite is true. “Fartlek” runs definitely meet my “unwillingness criteria”.

Note that I didn’t reinvent the wheel with any of these ideas. They weren’t strokes of genius, nor have I found anything others missed. I just asked myself what I would least want to do. Why would I want to sprint uphill? Why would I want to run into the wind? Why would I want to leave a warm bed to run in the cold? Why would I want to intentionally slow my pace? All of these seem unappealing (because they are!), but have proven to be worthwhile in my pursuit of growth.

While I’ve applied this theory to my running, we can also use it elsewhere. What can investors searching for their competitive advantage take away from this?

You could spend your time trying to outsmart other investors, pick up on things they’ve missed, search for superior information sources, or just hope you get luckier than them. However, I think the most accessible competitive advantage for investors is patience. Anybody can have patience, but nobody wants to. Even those who seem to “have patience” don’t have it all the time in everything they do. Patience is like suntan lotion, it has to be reapplied every time you want to utilize it. It often counters your initial instincts and is definitely uncomfortable, but deep down we know it’s often wise to be patient with our investments.

Patience as a source of competitive advantage goes back to defining what you are truly incapable of doing vs. what you’re simply unwilling to do. Are you incapable or unwilling to hold in a down market? Are you incapable or unwilling to not chase performance in an up market? Are you incapable or unwilling to rebalance your portfolio when the time comes? Are you incapable or unwilling to not care what your friend’s investments are doing? You get the idea.

The next time you’re trying to find an advantage ask yourself what you, and others like you, are most unwilling to do. Separate unwilling to do from incapable of doing, they are often not the same. By identifying counter-instinctual and uncomfortable things that we know deep down are probably beneficial, you’re likely to find a sustainable advantage. Recognize that if you have the ability to do something others won’t or can’t, you can use that to your benefit. Learn to love going where nobody else will.

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