We’ve officially reached the point in the month where people start abandoning their New Year’s resolutions and fall back into old habits. It’s a phenomenon I know all too well. In the past, I’ve been terrible at making and keeping all kinds of self-improvement promises. Whether my lofty goal was to eat better, write more regularly, or get into better shape, you can bet that I always found some convenient excuse for abandoning it before too long.

Until last year.

2010 marked the first time that I set an intention and actually followed through with it. I said I wanted to approach my personal writing projects with focused ambition. And though I have yet to finish my novel-in-progress, I completed enough chapters to finally earn my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. Having tasted that success, I feel compelled to see if I can replicate it in some other area of my life.

Which brings me to this year’s resolution.

After two years of being without a regular exercise regimen, I’ve decided to commit to a gradual increase in physical activity. To ensure that I stick with this, I joined the gym at the university where I work. I also paid a visit to Run Chicago, Madison Street’s one-stop shop for running enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.

Having never set foot in such a place, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. So it was nice to be greeted by Aaron, the very friendly, knowledgeable salesperson who happened to be on duty. He asked me how he could help. I explained that I was a beginning runner, and that I needed a decent pair of shoes.

I figured from there he’d simply measure my feet and bring out a stack of boxes, but my experience was much more thorough than that. He had me walk up and down the floor a couple times, observing the rise and fall of my feet. This helped him determine that I wasn’t completely flat-footed, but could benefit from a little arch support. From there, he brought out two pairs of shoes, both of which I tried and compared while Aaron asked questions meant to identify the sensations indicating a good fit.

When I had trouble choosing which pair I liked best, Aaron enthusiastically retrieved a third option, and encouraged me to take as much time as I needed to make my final decision. I appreciated his patience, and the additional variety allowed me to clearly see which shoe provided the most comfort. After I named my preference, there was no up-selling. No pressure to purchase additional accessories or workout clothes. Just a quick transaction and a polite “Thank You” from Aaron, and then I was on my way with my new purchase.

I don’t think I would have gotten this type of experience had I decided to visit a place like The Sports Authority or Foot Locker. It was yet another reminder of why I feel grateful to live in a place like Forest Park, where welcoming, community-oriented business rule the day.

Now if only I can stick to my running agenda, I’ll be golden!