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By Anne Stein, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

This new year you’ve decided to lose 25 pounds, restart your exercise program, and de-stress. But isn’t that what you decided last year? To keep resolutions, we’ve got to break bad habits while slowly establishing new ones to replace them.

Sports psychologist Gregory Chertok is director of mental training at Tenafly, N.J.-based CourtSense. He outlines the following habit-forming strategies to achieve your health and wellness goals.

Set specific, short-term goals. Saying “I’m going to lose 50 pounds” doesn’t offer much guidance, and without a road map, many of us lose motivation, Chertok said. Set attainable short-terms goals to guide you (such as join a health club, hire a personal trainer, work out three nights a week, cut out one dessert a week.) As you achieve these doable short-term goals, you’ll feel confident and willing to set more challenging ones. Goals should be in your control, Chertok added. We should be able to manipulate, adjust and accomplish them without reliance on someone or something else.

Be realistic. A lot of us expect dramatic results after a few weeks or even a few days of small lifestyle changes and are discouraged when there’s little change. “It can take up to several months of dedicated, consistent behavior to see change,” he said. Arm yourself with realistic expectations, don’t be surprised by the occasional obstacle and temptation — and persevere. As long as your goals are doable, the results will come.

Be aware of what triggers your bad habits and change them. One of the greatest challenges to breaking any habit is placing awareness on the trigger cues leading to the behavior. When the trigger cues are removed, the desire for the behavior can diminish. For instance, an exerciser may wish to take an alternate route home so he doesn’t pass his favorite restaurant (the trigger to stop and eat) or adjust his television package to avoid the temptation of late-night programming and ensure an earlier bedtime. As these new behaviors are repeated, they’ll slowly become ingrained and replace bad-habit behaviors, Chertok said.

Get support from friends and experts. Knowing that someone is thinking about us and holding us accountable is extremely effective in sticking to new goals. Join an exercise class or exercise with a buddy who expects you to show up. Share your goals with friends and family. Ask for help. For example, ask co-workers or family to discourage you from making poor food decisions. A personal trainer and dietitian also will hold you accountable and support your exercise and diet program.

Choose activities that interest you. Some people are more likely to adhere to exercise if they join a class or hire a personal trainer. Others operate better by themselves. “Based on your personality and temperament, craft the workout environment that’s most conducive to you. If you hate weightlifting, for example, don’t pick that,” Chertok said. “A lot of people think they have to exercise in a particular way, but if you’re not engaged from the start, that’s a red flag. Pick something you enjoy.”

Develop self-efficacy. If you don’t think you’re capable of running a 10k or losing 20 pounds, why bother? Self-efficacy is believing that you have the tools to take on and succeed in a particular situation or challenge. One way to build self-efficacy, according to Albert Bandura, the pioneering psychologist who developed the theory, is through modeling. If we see someone similar to us run a marathon, we might think it’s possible for us to do it too. Look for inspiring stories (books, videos) about people like you who’ve reached their goals.

Photo: You won’t get anywhere unless you make yourself want to, and that starts in the noggin. (kjekol/Fotolia/TNS)

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