All you need is willpower: the language of New Year’s resolutions

by Liz Walter​
Many of us see the new year as an opportunity to make a fresh start, to give up a bad habit or to take up a good one. Common resolutions (= promises to ourselves) include giving up smoking, doing more exercise, losing weight, or spending more time with our families.

Particularly after Christmas, when many of us have overindulged (= eaten and drunk too much), the idea of a detox (a strict diet designed to get rid of harmful substances from the body) can be quite attractive. However, those with less self-restraint (= ability to control ourselves) don’t need to feel guilty because evidence increasingly shows that such diets have no scientific basis, so all that self-denial (= not allowing yourself to have what you want) is actually a waste of effort.

Many resolutions are worth making, but what is the best way to stick to (= keep doing) them? The main thing is to set realistic goals (= decide on things you can really achieve). You might never run a marathon, but you could probably manage a brisk walk around the park most days. You may not be able to give up sugar completely, but perhaps you could cut down on (= have less of) fizzy drinks.

Psychologists say that each person only has a certain amount of willpower (= the ability to do things you don’t want to do, or not do things you do want to do), so it’s best to make one resolution at a time. If you try to deny yourself (= not allow yourself to have) too many of the things you love, you will never succeed.

There is no doubt that resolutions such as giving up smoking or going on a diet require a good deal of determination (= mental effort). How can we resist (= stop ourselves having) those cream cakes? How can we watch other people smoking without being tempted (= wanting these things) ourselves? If you do give in to temptation (= allow yourself to have what you want) from time to time, it doesn’t mean you are weak-willed (= without self control) – after all, nobody is perfect.

Finally, we all need motivation (= things to encourage us) if we want to achieve something difficult. If we know that our good behaviour will be rewarded (= we will get something for it), we are more likely to stay on the straight and narrow (= do what we should do).

Happy New Year, and the best of luck to anyone making resolutions!

14 thoughts on “All you need is willpower: the language of New Year’s resolutions

    1. This message is a wonderful example of the way language reflects culture. Most English-speaking countries are dominated the “Protestant ethic” (rules for moral living endorsed by Christians who rejected — or “protested” — the authority of the Catholic church), which stresses individual responsibility. All the resolutions have to do with an individual trying to make himself or herself a better person.

      Readers of this blog may be confused if they live in countries where the highest value is serving family or community. I worked briefly as a translator and learned how wide this gulf can be.

      The classic example, which I cannot personally verify, is that the Inuit (native peoples of the Arctic regions of North America) have 8 words for “snow.”

  1. phudit

    hi im from Thailand. i really fall in love with ur penning style and learn a lot from ur blogs. the vocab’s explanation and the content are pretty catchy and awfully useful on a daily communicative basis. im a big fan of ur blog and MS. Walter’s now.

    i look forwards to another soon.

  2. Nadin

    It’s a very useful article for me to learn and remember some new words with explanations in round brackets. Besides I’ve got useful information for improving ourself with the help of resolutions… Thanks.

    1. Carmen


      I’ve just found out about this blog and I simply loved it! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge to help us improve our English language skills! I will definitely follow it from now on!!! Thanks!

    2. No, it means that protestant ethics emphasizes individual responsibility, while other cultures pay more attention to other values. In the (mainly Catholic) south of Europe people’s mentality is completely different from the (mainly Protestant) North. That does not mean they are better, or worse; just different. Why are some people always ready to take offence, even at the most innocent comments?

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  4. Oltjana

    Thank you so much for this blog, I just found it out and I loved it. I am from Albania but I live and work in Italy. I want to take the toefl exam next couple of months and I think it is really very very useful at improving my knowledge. Thank you all very much

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