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    Are You Secretly in a Rut

    When you're in a groove, you know...

    That getting out and meeting some new people is energizing — and even inspiring. Feeling isolated is a hallmark of being stuck, especially for women, says Hallowell. Ivonne Moreno, 38, an administrative assistant in El Paso, TX, recalls feeling that way when she was in her rut, and says that meeting new people helped her break free. She's definitely on to something: Talking to new people activates the pleasure center in your brain (just like eating a good piece of chocolate does), according to a study reported in theJournal of Personality and Psychology.

    If you're having trouble getting yourself out there, start small: Compliment the lady from down the block on her pooch — you could end up chatting away and joining her for dog walks every now and then, just to catch up. Or, at the next kid's birthday party, strike up a conversation with someone who's outside your usual circle of parent-friends; the birthday girl's cousin's kooky mother with 40 silver bangles on her arms and a rose tattoo on her left ankle may turn out to do some really fascinating work as an "art therapist." Old pals count too, so consider inviting a couple of your friends to join you in a once-a-month Saturday-morning discussion on how to get out of ruts and lead more fulfilling lives. Or just ask one long-lost friend to go out with you for doughnuts and coffee; you can giggle over nothing more earth-shattering than whether jelly is better than powdered.

    That everyday "have-to's" — like exercising and eating right — are tools for life, not burdens. Yes, yes, you know that you have to do these things, but they needn't feel like have-to's if you can manage to upgrade your attitude toward them. Stefanie Schmidt, 30, a marine biologist from Las Vegas, makes cooking more fun by concentrating on different spices and how they change her dishes. Moreno looks forward to hitting the kitchen most when she invites friends or extended family over to cook once a week. Same goes for exercising: Find ways to change it from a have-to to a want-to. (Cartwheels on the lawn with your kid, anyone? How about 10 toe-touches before a party to put some color in your cheeks?) It'll become an opportunity to make your life richer.

    That going outside your usual comfort zone enriches you. The best way to feel alive — and brave — is to try some new things. Not that this always comes easily, of course. "At first, I was nervous going to night school," Moreno recalls. "It was very hard, a real challenge. But I do like going out there. I find that it really motivates you. And even if I'm sitting comfortably on my couch at home, I just say to myself, 'It's time for class. You are going to get up.'"

    Now, no one's suggesting that you have to take a step as big as enrolling in night school — there are plenty of other great ways to broaden your horizons. Just tell yourself that for once you're going to be the first person to speak up at the book-group meeting. Or sign up for a Sunday-afternoon course on how to contact a spirit guide. Or decide that since writing a novel seems completely overwhelming, you're going to write...a really bad novel, says Sher. It will be fun (and a whole lot less pressure). Be sure to tell a friend what you want to do; you're more likely to follow through with your plan if you have to be accountable to someone else later. Plus, she can give you pep talks.

    That bum days come, and bum days go. Yes, it's true: Even women in a groove have periods where they feel overwhelmed, uninspired, and just plain exhausted. But they never let themselves fall into the trap of thinking that those times define them. They know full well that they've got all the right tools to get their groove back, time after time.

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