You hate crowds but here you are, getting ready to take the stage at a public speaking contest. Butterflies in your stomach? More like a ball of fire. The hum of the crowd increases after they announce you are next. Time to take the stage.

Why are you doing this? Because you know the value personal development has in your life. You know discomfort is part of achieving big goals, and you’re facing the best opportunity right now — earning acceptance into your dream college.

Staying in your comfort zone is not the answer. Instead, learn how your personality traits form your comfort zone, then realize that you need to develop self-awareness and determine how to step out of your comfort zone to make your dreams come true.

Follow these steps to get out of your comfort zone and earn acceptance into your dream college:

Step 1: Define Your Comfort Zone

A comfort zone is a psychological state where you feel at ease and in control of your environment. You are familiar with your situation. Naturally, stepping outside of this causes anxiety and generates stress.

The best way to start your personal development journey is by defining your comfort zone based on your personality. For example, if you’re more introverted, activities like public speaking and working in group settings may seem daunting.

Reflect on your past experiences in work and in school. Determine what situations made you feel the least and most comfortable. This will give you a good idea of where fear is holding you back.

Let’s say you felt the most uncomfortable leading a group project. You felt perfectly comfortable doing your part of the project but didn’t like having to delegate tasks to others. This shows you that leadership skills don’t come naturally to you, which is perfectly fine. Now you know what to work toward.

Step 2: Determine What Scares You

Once you know your comfort zone, select activities outside of that. What activities scare you? What activities go against your nature?

It’s important to know this because when you apply to colleges, admissions professionals look for specific traits that may lie outside your comfort zone. My company, KudosWall, conducted a study and found that creativity, which is commonly viewed as an introvert trait, is highly valued in college resumes, online portfolios, online presence, and admission essays.

On the other hand, extroverts prevail by showcasing their outgoing personality, creating large networks, and establishing a personal brand. To put it simply, both extroverts and introverts have advantages in different areas of the application process.

While it’s important to play to your strengths, also find ways to pursue new challenges. Dedicate yourself to personal development by finding those activities that push you beyond your boundaries.

Do you hate leading? Find activities that give you more experience in that role, like being captain of a soccer team. Discomfort is where growth begins.

Step 3: Find Your ‘Productive Discomfort’

Expect to face fears, doubts, anxiety, and discomfort. You’re going to want to quit. You may regret signing up for a project or entering a competition.

Whatever causes these feelings, run toward that. That fear and anxiety actually make you more productive and adaptable.

The more you do things outside of your comfort zone, the easier it will be when you face new, unexpected changes. This is called ‘productive discomfort’ — when you reach a state of optimal anxiety that pushes you to perform better.

As you seek new experiences and learn new skills, you will be more creative and see old problems in a new light. This obviously creates many benefits for you moving forward in your academics.

You may suddenly realize when the pressure is on that you are actually great at organizing big projects, delegating to your partners, and following through on the final outcome. This is progress.

Step 4: Share Your Progress

As you seek out ways to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, share your personal development journey publicly. This isn’t just for bragging or gaining attention — it can actually help you get into college.

In fact, our survey found that online presence is one of the most valuable college application factors admissions professionals look at. Your online presence is where you let your character and personality shine. If seeking out growth opportunities is part of your character, be proud of that.

Consider creating a personal website or starting a blog to tell your stories of failure and success. Document what your process looks like and how you manage to accept discomfort and grow.

The ball of fire in your stomach, that tightness in your shoulders, those sweaty palms — these feelings mean you’re growing.

How are you approaching personal development and seeking discomfort? Share in the comments!