What I Learned at Forefront 2017

Last weekend I attended a conference called Forefront in Chicago, and I had a great time. I met a ton of great people and learned a lot. So, I wanted to record what I learned here, both so that I could keep it fresh, and also to share some of the great material with a wider audience. I learned how great it is to connect with people that are weird the same way you are, how to be happier, how better to hold myself and my clients accountable, and the value of belonging to a supportive community when trying to accomplish anything challenging. If anything I mention below sparks an interest, please follow some of the links and learn more about it, or even better, reach out so we can discuss. 

First off, what the hell is Forefront? Ramit Sethi created an event for people interested in self improvement and living a rich life to come together for a weekend and have a hell of a time. This year it was held at Chicago’s Navy Pier, which was a pretty cool venue. The whole weekend blended learning sessions, like how to get featured as an expert in media, with social events, like a gala at the Museum of Science and Industry. In between, coffee breaks, lunches, and after-hours bar time allowed people from all over the world to meet and mingle. The whole thing went incredibly smoothly thanks to the tireless efforts of some awesome volunteers. 

The format introduced me to a bunch of great people, which was hands down my favorite benefit of the event. I’ve been to conventions for shared interests before, but you often run into people who just don’t click with you. At Forefront, I had engaging conversations with literally everyone I spoke to.  So the first thing I learned was that these are definitely my kind of people. That’s not to say everyone was the same: I was blown away by the different ways people were applying the core concept “I want to live my own Rich Life”. Some folks used Ramit’s material to excel in their day job they love, while others have built successful businesses in niches I would never have thought of. Almost everybody said something to the effect that it was great to talk openly about consciously improving your life. Luckily, I don’t meet a lot of resistance when I do that, but I also have not met many people that share that passion - until now.

Of the explicit learning sessions, I got the most from the two fantastic guest speakers, Gretchen Rubin and Shawn Achor. I enjoyed both, but I really liked Shawn Achor’s talk. It apparently shared a lot of content with his TED talk, but with some updates. He researches the neuroscience of happiness and its effects at Harvard, and he has discovered that happy people do better on every success outcome we know how to measure. He defines “happy people” as those who are rational optimists - they don’t ignore reality, but they believe their actions can affect the world around them. The best part was the five daily habits you can use to make yourself happier: I am incorporating one every week or two until they all feel natural. It also helped that Shawn was very funny and engaging, which kept the audience riveted the whole time. Other than meeting great people, this talk was the highlight of my weekend.

That being said, I don’t want to shortchange Gretchen Rubin’s talk on the four tendencies, as it will have a big impact on my coaching practice. She has identified four different “tendencies” in how people respond to obligations, their own and others'. These tendencies determine what sources of motivation will get us going, and which we will tend to ignore. I won’t summarize the tendencies here (take the quiz to find out your own), but this talk transformed how I think about accountability. Almost all behavior change advice recommends external commitments to people or groups, but it turns out that’s because that works well for the most common tendency. Unfortunately, some people do not respond to that, and some actively rebel against it! By better understanding what motivates my clients, I can help them design accountability systems that really work, instead of making them feel guilty for failing to follow an approach that has never worked for them. 

While all of the above is more than I could have asked for out of any weekend, the most valuable lesson I learned was not a specific technique. Instead, I learned the importance of immersing yourself in a community for any endeavor. I have always tended to just “do it myself” and not mess with the hassle of “other people” when it comes to learning, but I’ve seen the error of my ways. First of all, having a like-minded community is fun. Spending time with people who are excited about the same things you are is energizing and motivating, and that feels great. Secondly, everybody has blind spots that are impossible to spot from within, but that are glaringly obvious to anybody else: a supportive community will help you find them and figure out what to do about them. Finally, you get exposed to way more ideas than you can possibly have on your own. So it looks like I’m going to have to board up my hermit cave and start interacting with more folks about all this self improvement stuff.

I had a great time at Forefront, and as you can see, I learned a lot of awesome stuff. I can’t wait for next year’s event - all of the repeat attendees spoke very highly of returning. Besides the specific lessons I picked up at Forefront, I want to share one last lesson you can apply: if you have the chance to attend an event of likeminded people, for whatever it is you’re into, I strongly recommend you do so and make the most of it.

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