How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome using the Power of the Brain

Have you heard of the "growth mindset"?

And what about "neuroplasticity"?

These are two very powerful ideas based on neuroscience that can help you overcome Imposter Syndrome, and transform that inner critic into an internal cheerleader.

Read on to find out more! 😁

The Growth Mindset

The key conclusion of the growth mindset is that our skills and talents can be improved through effort.

ie they are not inborn and fixed in stone, but can be changed

This idea was defined by Professor Carol Dweck, after years of researching what made some students more successful than others.

And it's wonderfully liberating!

It means we are not stuck forever being “bad at maths” or “bad with spreadsheets”.

With a bit of study and application, we can change our skill level and become good at these things.

So at its essence, the growth mindset is exactly that, a “mindset” - ie a way of thinking, which we can choose to adopt.

However, it actually goes deeper than this.

The “growth mindset” idea mirrors the findings of neuroscience.


It used to be thought that our brains were fixed, biologically.

They were pre-determined by our genes, and the brain we were born with was the brain we would die with.

Everything controlled by our brain - from our ability to think critically, to our capacity to learn languages, to our ability to undertake complex physical movement - was fixed, forever.

The first evidence that contradicted this dates from as early as 1793.

A Italian anatomist Michele Vicenzo Malacarne did lengthy experiments where he trained animals for years, then compared the brain of a trained animal with an animal of the same species that hadn't had the training.

Through dissection, he found the part of the brain that relates to muscular activity (the cerebellum) was significantly larger in the animals who'd been trained.

But these findings were not taken further until the early 20th century.

Then the evidence that the brain could change its biological function slowly gathered:

  • experiments on monkeys showed changes in their brain biology over time (Karl Lashley, 1923);

  • research into stroke victims indicated a healthy part of the brain had taken over the function of some of the damaged part (Shepherd Ivory Franz, c.1902);

  • and, my favourite, a study into the brains of London taxi drivers (in the pre-sat nav era of “the Knowledge), which showed evidence of changes in their hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory) in comparison with controls (Eleanor Maguire, 1997).

By the 1960s the term “neural plasticity” had emerged.

Over the next forty years the research gathered pace.

And in 2016 one of the foremost scientists in this field received the Kavli Prize for Neuroscience "for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain function”.

It is clear: the brain’s biological make-up actually changes throughout your life, depending on your experiences and your thoughts.

And this is neuroplasticity!

When you think a thought, neural pathways fire in your brain.

The more often you think a thought, the more efficient these pathways become (the synapses literally move closer together).

Which means you are more likely to think this thought in the future.

An illustration of neuroplasticity

The best way to understand it is to imagine a field with two gates, one at either end.

As people walk between the gates, the grass is worn away - which means people are even more likely to take that path in the future.

But this also works in reverse:

if one of those gates is moved, people start creating a new path - and crucially, the grass regrows over the old path.

And that's exactly what happens in the brain!

So what does this mean for your Imposter Syndrome?

When you have Impost