A Marist poll on New Year’s resolutions shows that 12 percent of Americans have designated 2018 as the year they’ll lose weight. This isn’t surprising, by any means—after all, who among us hasn’t resolved to lose a few Christmas-cookie pounds? But what is surprising is this: an equal number of Americans resolve to “be a better person.”

I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I wasn’t always that way—most years, I’d utter some contrived resolution on December 31 and forget about it by January 1. In my defense, I also forgot a lot of other things by January 1, including where I put my shoes, how I got home, and the name of the guy who came home with me (sorry about that…Brian? Eric? George Clooney? Let’s say it was George Clooney.)

Which is why, when my friends went around the room doing the obligatory New Year’s resolutions for 2009, no one took me seriously when I said I was going to run a 5K. After all, I was holding a cigarette at the time. Also, I was quite overweight. Also, I was very, very, very drunk. So drunk, I didn’t recall saying my New Year’s resolution was to run a 5K.

But my friend John did, and he told our friend Carlos, who texted me the next morning: “I hear you’re going to run a 5K this year.”

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I braced myself for his inevitable barrage of jokes about the fat chain-smoker going for a jog. They never came. Instead, I got an e-mail with a beginner’s 5K training plan. I’m not sure what surprised me more: this gesture of support from a veteran runner, or the fact that he actually believed I could do it.

Long story short, I’m a running columnist, so it should be pretty obvious I made good on that 5K. Since then, I’ve done marathons, Ironman triathlons and ultramarathons; this year, I’m ringing in the new year with a 24-hour race.

Statistically, none of this should be happening. Statistically, the odds are stacked against me. Statistically, I should still be drunk in bed with George Clooney. And yet here I am, a New Year’s success story. Was it because I finally made the right resolution? Hell, no. It’s because somebody decided to be a better person, to skip the easy incredulous joke and offer a helping hand.

I tell this story every New Year’s Eve, not because I want to encourage people to become runners, but because I want to encourage them to become better people.

Because here’s the thing: On January 1, 2018, there’s going to be a lot of people in need of a cheerleader. Instead, they’re going to be facing the peanut gallery. They’ll announce their big ambitious goal on Facebook or Twitter, and someone will tell them they’re too fat, too old, too [insert excuse here] to achieve it. They’ll walk into a gym and hear exasperated sighs and covert sniggers from people who think the barrage of empty-headed Resolutioners don’t belong there. Few, if any, will take them seriously. And why should they? Statistically, they’re doomed to fail.

But what if they had someone who wholly believed they could beat the odds? Better yet, what if that someone was you?

Sure, you could resolve to lose 5 pounds or knock 5 minutes off your marathon PR. Or you could completely change the trajectory of someone else’s life.

This time next year, what story will people tell about you?

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