Leveraging Neuroscience Enhances Confidence to Build Capabilities

What is neuroplasticity and how do we train the brain to be more confident?

Having grown up in Learning and Development (L&D), we’ve seen leaders grapple with building their capabilities, often feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. We learned that confidence is key to developing leadership skills… “But how?” you may ask yourself.

Neuroscience, the superhero of modern learning, often is over-quoted. Simply mentioning terms such as “amygdala” or “dopamine” won’t magically improve emotional intelligence (EQ) competence, for example. However, we can learn from neuroscience, particularly neuroplasticity, which focuses on how the brain changes during the learning process. Norman Doidge (2016) illuminates the emerging field of applying neuroplasticity to L&D. If L&D is going to appropriately apply neuroscience, it had better understand neuroplasticity to create a state of confidence in learners.

As L&D professionals, we become the superheroes of the workplace when we are neuroplasticians. Armed with neuroplasticity frameworks and tools, we can empower leaders to make deliberate choices and embrace change with confidence.

Neuroplasticians help employees tackle emotions, reframe thoughts, adopt new behaviors, and change habits—by rewiring their brains for success. The missing piece of the puzzle? Confidence. It’s like the secret sauce that turns an average manager into a confident, capable leader. Confidence is a state of being such that one can envision a positive outcome at the continuous pace at which one’s brain makes a decision to assess the likelihood of that outcome. Confidence enhances decision accuracy, based on new research (Ott, T., et al, 2019). L&D can leverage this new insight to more effectively build capabilities by generating confidence so employees can more accurately perform new skills. This further enforces the target behaviors as employees increase their confidence, which then further increases accuracy, and the cycle continues.

So let us don our L&D capes and dive into the world of neuroplasticity.

The Challenge: Lack of EQ Capabilities

A leading consumer goods company embedded a collaborative culture where employees across the globe felt “one” with each other through a united set of values. But there was a gap. The 250-plus leaders of the newly formed Shared Services organization were not demonstrating emotionally intelligent behaviors. Performance conversation metrics and employee feedback indicated that leaders lacked core capabilities such as empathy, flexibility, and problem solving. L&D developed an interactive, multi-modality learning solution to sustain emotional intelligence. The learning experience was well-regarded, and leaders were excited to participate. The three-month learning journey achieved an 87 percent satisfaction rating. However, after three months, the leaders’ behaviors had not changed. They still lacked emotional intelligence, based on 360 feedback. After some diagnostics, the L&D consultant, who was a certified neuroplastician, discovered that the Shared Services leaders did not envision a future where they would regularly remain cool during conflict, walk in others’ shoes, and clearly communicate.

The Solution: Use Neuroplasticity to Change the Brain By Building Confidence for Lasting Learning

Neuroplasticity offers five ways to overcome capability gaps, ensuring your learning initiative achieves the target return on investment (ROI) by enabling your employees to be confident, which is the key ingredient to fully gaining desired capabilities.

  1. Safe environment. We need to build safety for employees to practice new skills. Neuroception is the way we perceive a threat, so by allowing for greater understanding of unconscious emotional cues, we can build learning processes that create a safe and fun environment where we can become confident in achieving the target behaviors.
  2. On-the-job practice. Since we continuously decide if we can positively achieve the outcome, design on-the-job activities with check-ins to help the employees’ decisions be positive toward achieving the goal. Define incremental goals to practice the skill in small chunks, focusing on what one can control, while adding advanced activities to stretch out of one’s comfort zone. The anticipation (mental rehearsal) of a positive outcome results in increased serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals responsible for the “cool confidence” state of being that helps one feel motivated to follow through. And increased confidence leads to increased accuracy of decision and, thus, outcomes. Challenging and fun practice exercises during times of low motivation actually create a state of confidence due to the release of dopamine in the brain.
  3. Imagine it! Did you know your brain can’t always tell reality from imagination? Regularly visualizing success rewires your brain for achievement, triggering dopamine release for motivation. Set clear goals, visualize success, and practice regularly to rewire your brain and stay motivated.
  4. Small successes. As we now know that increased confidence enhances decision accuracy, we need to ensure leaders have an opportunity to see the positive results of their new behaviors, which will result in increased capabilities. Help employees relish their new capabilities. Setup a “Reward Board” where employees recognize each other when they demonstrate emotional intelligence or keep success journals where employees record demonstrated EQ behaviors.
  5. Employees at the center. Ensure your learners’ neurological needs are at the heart of every program. Prioritizing their well-being is the golden rule. Enter Dr. Julia DiGangi’s enlightening book, “Energy Rising” (2023), revealing the remarkable impact of neuroelectrical energy on motivation, confidence, and productivity. Harnessing this neural energy becomes the key to unlocking greater confidence and sustaining productivity throughout the learning journey. Help employees embrace practices such as sleep hygiene, nutrient-rich diets, invigorating exercise, and humor.

Ground your solutions in neuroplasticity to create confidence and sustain real behavior change. Creating (neuro) psychological safety in the learning environments with fun interaction, and celebrating small victories fosters ongoing growth, grounded in enhanced accuracy from increased confidence. Helping employees envision the end goal as they continue to focus on their wellness is needed to encourage a state of confidence and effective learning. By applying neuroplasticity-based tools, we become neuroplasticians, architects of lasting L&D success. So apply neuroplasticity-based strategies and be the L&D superhero, ensuring success in every learning initiative.


  • DiGangi, J. (2023), Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading with Emotional Power, Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Doidge, N. (2016), “The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity,” Penguin Books.
  • Sanders, S. J., Campbell, A. J., Cottrell, J. R., Møller, R. S., Wagner, F. F., Auldridge, A. L., …and Bender, K. J. (2018), “Progress in Understanding and Treating SCN2A-Mediated Disorders, Trends in Neurosciences, 41(7), 442-456.
  • Torben Ott #1, Paul Masset #1 2 3, Adam Kepecs, 1 “The Neurobiology of Confidence: From Beliefs to Neurons,” PMID: 31270145 DOI: 10.1101/sqb.2018.83.038794
  • Zaccaro, A., Lucas, S. J., Haines, M., Taggart, P., An, X., Azevedo, R. T., … and Huberman, A. D. (2023), Brief Structured Respiration Practices Enhance Mood and Reduce Physiological Arousal,” Cell Reports Medicine, 4(1), 100679.
Kim Goodwin and Dr. Justin James Kennedy, with contributions from Paul McGinniss and Greg Pitcher
Kim Goodwin, MS, SHRM-CP, is a transformational/change management consultant and executive and team coach at Goodwin Solutions, LLC. A consultant for organizational effectiveness since 2014, Goodwin’s work today focuses on inspiring excellence for leading change through effective, data-driven organizational strategies and neuroscience-based development for senior leaders and their teams. Goodwin is currently exploring how neuroscience can enable health outcomes and enhance leadership. Goodwin received a Bachelor’s degree from Clarkson University and an M.S. in Organizational Behavhior from the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business. She began her career as a consultant at Accenture. Prior to launching her business, Goodwin held leadership roles in training, change management, and practice development at McKinsey & Company, as well as organizations across several industries. Among her many credentials, Goodwin has certifications in Applied Neuroscience Executive Coaching, Master Neuroplastician, Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ-i). Dr. Justin James Kennedy holds the position of professor of Applied Neuroscience and Organizational Behavior at UGSM-Monarch Business School, College & University, in Hagedorn, Zug, Switzerland. He is also a Ph.D. professor of Applied Neuroscience and supervision with Canterbury Christchurch University and several other UK universities such as Queensland CQU, Australia, where he functions as adjunct faculty and supervision professor. His academic work recently defined the model of “Organizational Wellbeing Neuroscience.” He is the author of “Brain Re-Boot.” Contributor Paul K. McGinniss, PCC, RPCC, SBL, MSHR, is the owner and executive leadership coach at Response-Able Consulting LLC (www.response-ableconsulting.com), and contributor Greg Pitcher is the co-founder of Neurogility.