My first exposure to the idea that I needed an element of surprise in my trading came from a book recommendation from a fellow trader and friend. The book is titled “Finite and Infinite Games” by James P. Carse. It is an extremely dry and boring book that speaks almost in broken catch phrases. But if you can get past all that, there are some real trading gems to be found.
One of my favorite quotes reads:
“A finite player is trained not only to anticipate every future possibility, but to control the future, to prevent it from altering the past. This is the finite player in the mode of seriousness with its dread of unpredictable consequence. Infinite players, on the other hand, continue their play in the expectation of being surprised. If surprise is no longer possible, all play ceases.”
I found that to be so straight forward and honest when it came to my trading and here’s why…
First let me try to give some context on what a finite and infinite player means. The first few sentences of the book define it best. “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” So a finite player, or one who desires to win at the game they are playing, is different from an infinite player who wants only to continue to play.
How does this relate to trading?
I had to honestly assess my trading when I read this and continue to have to ask these questions on a daily basis. Am I a finite or infinite trader? Do I collect systems the same way I would collect video games, to play on an unending loop with no real outcome? Do I want to be surprised every time I push the button? Do I have an awareness of my emotional understanding when it comes to trading? Am I addicted to the rush?
To be honest, I probably could have said yes to all of these at some point. I needed something from trading, but the dirty secret is that trading has nothing to offer you. It is a job just like any other and should be treated as such.
To treat trading as a job is to turn it from an infinite game to a finite game. To treat trading as a way to further your financial future and not a casino, makes it a finite game. To seek to win, and not win to build me up and make me somebody, but just because that is the only way to play the game is to play to win. Control what I can control, i.e. entries, stops, and profit targets.
I try to let my surprise come from the good things in life like my family or faith, or any number of other things that bring that feeling of wanting to continue the play regardless of outcome.
So, on a daily basis, no matter what you do but especially in trading, ask yourself: “Am I doing this for an outcome, or am I doing it for the surprise?” It changed my entire perspective.