I've been coaching Tiny Habits(R) habiteers this week, and BJ Fogg's blog about "Untangling Bad Habits" has been on my mind a lot: http://tinyhabitsacademy.org/what-do-tangled-ropes-and-breaking-habits-have-in-common/
We've been trained to think that "if we just set our mind to it, we can do anything!" But that's not always true, and sometimes it's like sailing - you have to use the wind the way it blows. So that sometimes means making a zig-zag pattern to go against/into the wind.
Let me first clarify that I am not good at sailing - I took it as a PE elective and I turned over the tiny boats far too often for comfort in a lake full of alligators.
But I remember enough - in order to get somewhere when the wind is coming from that direction, you can't sail directly at your destination - the wind is going to push you backwards. You have to harness the wind to sail to the side of your destination, then turn and sail 90 degrees in another direction. So you're doing a lot more work, you feel like you aren't making any head-way, and you're tired. But eventually, you get to your destination.
In case you didn't actually read BJ's blog post above, the short version is that a bad habit cannot easily be replaced with a new, good habit, usually because a truly bad habit is often a mess of habits. Made that resolution on January 1st to stop smoking? Broke it the next morning over coffee because the habit is so ingrained? Or maybe on the 5th when you met up with friends for drinks and it just felt natural in your hand?
So back to tacking into the wind - if you have a big goal to accomplish, it's ok to start with a small act in a tangential direction - that might be what you need to do to untangle that first rope. And the next action might be in another direction - you might not seem like you're making progress. But if you are taking some kind of action in a positive direction, you are still moving forward.