Lose yourself

Photo by Sam te Kiefte on Unsplash

Photo by Sam te Kiefte on Unsplash ↗

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment

You own it, you better never let it go


But I kept rhymin' and stepped right in the next cypher

- Eminem in "Lose Yourself" (2002)

What makes exceptional people tick?

I often wonder about the reason behind the results of those we classify as the most exceptional in their fields. Think of Ronaldo and Messi; MJ, Lebron, Kobe; Jobs, Gates, Elon; Einstein... you name it.

Is it pure genius, hard work, or the right environment maybe? Could it be luck or favour? Perhaps, the right crew (managers and colleagues)? Ultimately, it's not the same reason for every one of these folks. If you took a survey, you would get lots of different responses.

I believe we express the best of ourselves when we get lost in whatever it is we set ourselves to do. And this also enables us to climb into previously uncharted realms of creativity.

Losing yourself

But what does this mean - losing yourself in something? I'd like to think of it as comprising two intertwined states:

  • being so engrossed in a particular thing, so much that, in the moment, you are substantially unconscious of anything other than it.
  • coming into a state of intuitive understanding/reasoning about the said thing, such that your brain can more readily unravel further layers of reasoning effortlessly.

But what enables these? I propose that these two are like dance pairs - one enables the other and vice-versa. As you gradually get some intuition you can become more engrossed, and as you become more engrossed, you lose yourself and can gain more intuition.

This dance continues until both levels are so deep that you are not just studying/learning/working anymore but you are now able to create.

So the key point here is that losing yourself does not happen instantly, but gradually. And it also implies that there are depths to losing yourself. You could be only superficially lost - with your mind still wandering somewhat or with you still being confused depending on the difficulty of the topic. Or you could be completely engulfed that even while doing other things, the intuition/ideas of the former topic are still playing around in your head.


When we relate this to skills (acquired or naturally endowed), we can use the term - mastery. At this level, one does not need any preambles or rituals to get lost in putting one's skill to work. This is because the person's understanding and ability to "work" the thing in question have become so deeply rooted that there isn't the need to think too much or put in a lot of conscious effort to get the best results - it's become reflex.

One can just jump in and be deep in. And the results that come out of this are typically exceptional and creative.

Artificial Stimulants

We typically already have ways of achieving the first part mentioned above - effortlessly getting engrossed. For example, if you're a developer, you probably have a routine of grabbing a cup of coffee. Some people need a puff of whatever. Sports folks have pre-game rituals. You know what does the job for you, but we typically have ways of "getting in the zone".

I would argue that mastery offers you a better route. You can be placed on the spot and you can create, without the need for an artificial stimulus. And you'll get better results because you are yourself.

Ideas from Neurology and AI

In Artificial Intelligence, we refer to Neural Networks, which are a class of methods that try to mimic the way the brain functions.

You have a "neuron" that is assigned a mathematical weight and essentially uses this to represent some learned part of the problem being modelled.

By putting data representing the problem through a network of many such neurons and applying a process that is similar to how goats eat - regurgitation. In AI, we call it backward propagation. The neurons' weights get updated via this back-and-forth process until they converge to values that encode, to some level of accuracy, the problem space. At this point, we can say the model has learned the problem.

This learning process is similar to the dance I mentioned earlier - you take a concentrated step into the unknown, you learn and unlearn and then take another step, further learn and unlearn and you go on and on till hopefully, you reach a point of singularity. Beyond this point, you become creative.

Okay, I hear you, what next?

Well, it's simple. Whatever you put your mind to doing - if it's important enough to you, aim to lose yourself to it so that you can master it. Go from science to art; from work to fun; from learning to creating.

Apply yourself to it, and focus on foundation-up learning rather than erratic or hurried learning.

Gradually you will go from an enthusiast to a professional, to an expert, to a master, to a creative and onto whatever else comes next - if you stay at it consistently.

Aim to become a creative rather than just a learner or user.

Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash ↗

Last Edited: 16/12/2022 © Lon Ilesanmi.RSS