HOHENFELS, Germany ^' As the new year dawns, millions of Americans will take part in the time-honored tradition of making resolutions to better themselves. But statistics show that before January is even over, most will have given up. Many have gone through this cycle so often that the very idea of New Year's resolutions creates a cynical sneer and a resolution not to make resolutions. However, before you join the ranks of the unresolved, here are a few tips to help you keep yours.

Resolution defined

A resolution is nothing more than a decision, a goal, something we have resolved to do. We often think it has to be something dramatic that will change your life, such as quitting smoking or losing weight, but any goal can fit the bill, such as learning to scuba dive or completing a home-improvement project.

At 68-years-young, Priscilla Fleischer, Hohenfels Family Advocacy Program Manager, decided she wanted to run "the original" marathon in Greece. After the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C., a messenger ran the entire 26.2 miles to Athens to bring news of the battle. The annual marathon today retraces the same route. Though she'd never run even a third of that distance before, Fleischer was determined to give it her best shot.

"I enjoy challenging myself to do something hard, something I haven't done before," Fleischer said. "If I fail at it, at least I'm going to try it."

Know your outcome

You can't hit a target if you don't know what you're aiming at. Studies have shown that the more definite your goal, the more likely you will achieve it. For instance, resolving to lose weight is not as effective as deciding to lose 25 pounds by the Fourth of July.

If Fleischer's goal had merely been to run a marathon, she could easily have delayed while getting in shape, or by searching for the most convenient race. By picking the marathon in Greece, she gave herself a specific date and a definite goal to pursue.

"I have to have a goal I'm working for because then it gives you something to look forward to, something I want to do, something that's fun for me, that I'm already enjoying thinking about," said Fleischer.

Have compelling reasons

The real key to reaching your goal is in knowing why you want it. As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it, "Given a big enough 'why' people can bear almost any 'how.'" Many people create resolutions based on something they feel they 'should' do, or something someone else wants them to do. These are much harder to keep because the driving force is not compelling enough. The more reasons you can come up with, the more likely you will find the motivation to keep pushing forward.

For Fleischer, the catalyst was her daughter's wedding.

"I wanted to look elegant as the mother of the bride, so I thought, I need to start exercising," she said.

"The problem is when we start on a goal, we're all gung ho for the first two weeks, and then the motivation starts to wane."

Fleischer agrees that the key is to have reasons big enough to keep you striving to achieve your goal. Not only did she want to lose weight but staying healthy was major motivation.

"I'm 68, and I need to keep my health together. I want to be around to see my grandchildren."

Commit and get started

Once you've set your goal, commit. Tell a friend; post it on Facebook. Don't just think about doing it. Start. It is said that action preceeds motivation. If you wait for the perfect day to begin running, for instance, it's likely something will come up or you'll get distracted. As the old Nike commercials used to say, "Just do it."

As the day of the marathon loomed, Fleischer and her running partner, Patricia Scott, considered not following through. But not only had they already committed to each other, there were financial commitments as well.

"We already paid!" Fleischer laughed. "We had our plane reservations, we had our hotel. We have to at least go!"

Break it down

Sometimes people lose motivation because their goal seems so distant, so unachievable. It helps to take a large goal and break it down into achievable chunks. For example, losing 25 pounds may seem daunting, but striving to lose one pound per week becomes doable. In addition, by creating small successes you will build momentum toward the big goal.

"The first time I ran, we went for like 2 blocks," said Fleischer. "So, I started a competition with myself to see if I could run a whole mile."

Fleischer used the same technique during the marathon, concentrating on just pushing herself a little further.

"They had the kilometers marked, so I'd say, okay, you made it 22, I can do 23; okay I made it to 23, I can do 24," said Fleischer.

Pat yourself on the back

When you achieve each small chunk, celebrate the victory. Allow yourself to feel the success. The good feelings generated will create a desire for more, and give you more confidence as you take aim at the next phase of your goal.

"The first time I ran a mile, I was so excited," Fleischer said. Then a colleague at work who also jogged told Fleischer that she regularly ran five miles. Though that number seemed astronomical at the time, Fleischer set her sights on that goal next.

Feel the fear, and do it anyway

Fear of failure paralyzes many people, and they have difficulty even beginning a goal because they don't want to put in the effort only to fail. Fleischer says we can't let pride get in our way.

"You have to fail at something first before you can learn it," she said. "If I'm going to do anything, I have to be prepared to do it poorly at the beginning because I'm only learning it. If I'm open enough to make mistakes and do it wrong, then I have a chance of being able to learn something new."

Another way to look at failure is that as long as you are still trying, you haven't failed. You are still in the game until you give up. If you fall, just pick yourself up and start again.

Before deciding to run the marathon, the furthest Fleischer had ever run had been 7.5 miles. But she wasn't afraid to fail.

"I was prepared to not finish it," she admitted. "I was so nervous. But I figured I could at least finish it by walking even if it took me 24 hours. I would do it only for myself. I didn't have to do it by anybody else's standards but mine."

Her long months of training paid off, and Fleischer actually finished quite high amongst her age group.

"I never thought I could do anything like that," said Fleischer. "But I did it, something that was a big challenge, that I wanted to do for so long, that I could just say for myself that I did that and be proud of it."

What could you achieve in if you weren't worried about failing? Give yourself the gift of striving for a challenging goal, and the pride of going for it 100 percent. Let 2012 be the year you finally achieve your resolutions.

Page last updated Wed January 4th, 2012 at 00:00