The Boomer Athlete

These days I feel like I’m a poster child for what can go wrong physically as we age. Here’s the story.

In May we had great weather and snow conditions, and I was able to go backcountry skiing three weekends in a row. There’s nothing like climbing up and skiing down thousands  of feet to get me feeling fit. I lost the few pounds I often gain in the winter, and my body felt trimmer and more taut.

The following week I tripped running up my stairs. One of my hands slammed into the sharp edge of a door frame, and I broke my fifth metacarpal. They call it a boxer’s break. A bar fight would have made a better story.

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Hello faithful readers,

I apologize for the dearth of posts in recent months. I’ve been going through some transitions. I now have a new business identity, FrahmComm.

This is the last post for the Sage Enviro blog. But I will continue to write.

I’ll be blogging on communication (such as writing, storytelling and changing behavior) at www.frahmcomm.com/blog/ and on baby boomer fitness and health at http://boomerathlete.wordpress.com/. Check them out.

And let me know if there are topics you’d like to read about.

I enjoy working hard, but I also enjoy playing hard. I have always believed in taking time off to exercise, relax and renew.

An article by Tony Schwartz in Sunday’s New York Times says that working long hours without taking time to renew your energy makes you less productive. From taking naps to going on vacation, time away from the daily grind helps you accomplish more. That’s not new information.

But the article taught me something new about what a productive schedule looks like. Research has found that our bodies tend to work best in uninterrupted 90-minute sessions, followed by a break. Studies of elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players, found that the best performers follow this schedule. And they rarely work more than 4-1/2 hours a day.

Schwartz has applied these principles to his writing. He wrote his first three books by working 10-hour days, and it took him at least a year to finish. For his two most recent books, he started writing in the morning and worked in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions, with a break after each one. He ran during one of his daily breaks and found that his best ideas often came to him during a run. He wrote 4-1/2 hours a day and finished both books in less than six months. He spent the afternoons doing less demanding work.

Schwartz has applied these principles to his own company. He said, “By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. . . . Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.”

How do you get someone to make a large commitment? By asking them to make a smaller commitment first. For example, you might ask them to answer a survey, click on a link, or do an easy task. This is known in psychology circles as escalating commitment, or the foot-in-the-door technique.

Safe driving sign

The classic study involved homeowners in a high-end neighborhood. When homeowners were asked if they would place a large, intrusive sign on their front lawn about safe driving, 17% agreed.

A different group was approached about two weeks earlier and asked if they would display a small, inconspicuous sign in their window that read “Be a safe driver.” When this group was later asked if they would put the large sign on their lawn, an astonishing 76% agreed (Freedman and Fraser, 1966).

Applying strategy to websites

How does this apply to communication on the web? I’m exploring the web usage of this and many other psychological theories in a class called “Psychology of Digital Media.” It’s part of the MCDM program at the University of Washington.

Classmates.com: a series of simple steps

The instructor described his experience working for Classmates.com. The site draws in the casual visitor one simple, easy step at a time:

  • Click on your state
  • Click on the first letter of your city
  • Click on the first letter of your school

After successfully navigating to the name of your school, you find out that if you register (for free), you can find out about 8,300 other alumni from your school.

At one point in the site’s history, a site designer said it took too many steps to reach the registration form. They reduced the number of steps, and registrations dropped precipitously. Why? They hadn’t drawn the visitor into the site through a series of small commitments.

Every Move: sign up now

I analyzed the “Every Move” website, which offers rewards for exercising. A large “sign up” button is one of the few things on the site’s front page. Does the page provide enough information to persuade the casual visitor to sign up?

The next page of the site:

  • Offers merchandise and discounts from local merchants
  • Mentions that your friends can cheer you on
  • Blogs about prominent people who have signed up
  • Offers a Twitter feed about the brain benefits of exercise

If these items appeared as clickable links on the front page, they could draw people into the site and make them more interested and more likely to sign up. It’s less about any rewards you might offer than about site visitors taking one more step on the pathway.

Think about foot-in-the-door the next time you’re trying to improve your website to better engage your readers.

Terri Olson Miller set back the bulkhead at her Lake Washington home because she wanted a beach. Her family loves it–and so do young salmon. Here’s a video I produced about Terri, with the help of King County videographer Tim O’Leary.

The savvy people at Sightline Institute have created an online writing guide with tips for managing your blog, email, Facebook and Twitter. It’s full of useful and practical information on how to reach your audience more effectively online. You can check it out here.

Their first tip: “Know your audience.” Their focus on audience is one reason I like their guide.

If you’ve been around me enough, you know I’ll always ask two questions: “What’s your objective?” and “Who’s your audience?” You won’t be able to communicate effectively if you don’t know who you’re trying to reach.

Annette Frahm is principal of Sage Enviro, which specializes in green marketing communications and creating strategies for a green future.

Patricia Ridenour is a photographer who works at Building C Artist Studios in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. She is currently exploring the lack of gravity.


I created this video as an assignment for my Multimedia Storytelling class, part of the MCDM program I’m enrolled in at the University of Washington.