I hate waiting.

I don't like waiting in line to check out of a store. I don't like waiting on the phone for a customer-service representative to help me with a problem. And I really can't stand waiting for my order in a restaurant.

But I'll wait as long as it takes to find a good opportunity in the stock market.

Why is that one different? Because I know I need every advantage I can get to generate excess returns in competitive markets.

Here's how I think being patient gives little guys like us an advantage.

Rewire ourselves
Animals and humans aren't wired for patience. In "The Economics of Impatience," Ernst Fehr talks about how animals prefer "small rewards arriving soon" rather than "large awards arriving later." That's because we know that future rewards may not come. As such, we discount them more heavily, and thus they become less valuable to us. Yet in the stock market, those who can be patient can take advantage of those that can't. Sorry, but it's a cruel world out there.

Consider Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), one of the hottest stocks this year. Some folks may want to be a part of the action to score some quick returns. Some even think this strategy can lead to big money.

Conversely, American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) is near its 52-week low and is getting hammered in the retail carnage. However, given the company's inherent strength, might it be better to buy at a low price and wait for the market to reward your choice? The economics of patience would say yes.

Some mistakes are OK
We all make mistakes. Being patient changes how those mistakes might affect our portfolios. That's because when we exercise patience, we substitute errors of omission for errors of commission. Put more simply: It's better to miss an opportunity than to make a bad choice.

Last week, Pharmion (NASDAQ:PHRM) communicated a successful phase 3 trial for its drug Vidaza. Since the announcement, the stock has risen 63%. If you ask me what the drug does or what it treats, I'll give you a deer-in-the-headlights stare, because I don't know. Should I worry about missing this huge return? No. Should I run out and try to become an expert on drug companies? Probably not. Missing these returns doesn't matter. Waiting for good opportunities that I understand, like my four-bagger with Deckers Outdoor (NASDAQ:DECK), is just fine with me.

Exploit our position
Here's another way to exploit an advantage. As individual investors, we don't have to worry about raising capital or watching it flee, because we don't get paid based on assets under management. We get paid based on the returns we generate. As a result, we can be patient and pick our spots, whereas professional managers have to invest funds right away and earn returns on them for fear of losing them.

Three important words
Patience also reinforces discipline. I hate losing money more than I hate waiting. So I am more than willing to wait for investments with healthy margins of safety -- three important words for any investor to remember.

Morningstar (NASDAQ:MORN) has interested me for quite a while. But ever since its IPO, the company has seemed expensive to me. Sure, it generates lots of free cash flow, and those cash flows are growing. And if you've seen the chart, you'll know that I've missed quite a run for the stock. To some people, it's unacceptable to not be a part of that success. But if an investment doesn't have the margin of safety I demand, I shouldn't invest. And as I said before, an error of omission is better than an error of commission.

The Foolish bottom line
Patience can be a powerful advantage in the stock market. It can help us be different from the crowd and exploit others' tendency for immediate gratification. It can keep us focused on the goal of long-term results as well as help us harness the power of margin of safety.

It can also help us in difficult markets like these. We don't need to rush and buy on every dip. Instead, we can wait for the prices we want, or even demand, in order to generate big returns. After all, the market is not there to guide us; it's there for us to exploit. It can also help us hold onto investments through tough times as long as the investing thesis remains intact. Just as we don't need to buy just because others are buying, we don't need to sell because others are selling.

Patience is indeed powerful. So, Fools, use your patience to your advantage and harness the spoils it will bring.

For more on the companies mentioned here, check out:

American Eagle Outfitters is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Our Stock Advisor newsletter is handily beating the market. To see the stocks it recommends for new money, simply sign up today for a free 30-day trial.

Retail editor David Meier does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.