Providing realistic training includes exposing people to some adversity to build resilience. When leaders design and implement workplace training that induces moderate levels of stress, they enable their people to develop mental toughness and coping skills. Research shows that exposure to some adversity is more likely to promote resilience than exposure to either high adversity or no adversity.

Researchers with the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of California, Irvine developed the Lifetime Adversity Measure to quantify the number of times a person has experienced negative life events. They collected data from a national survey sample of about 2000 people that reflected distribution of census counts for the U.S. population on age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, geographical region, employment status, income, and education.

Their study showed that exposure to at least some prior adversity correlated to better well-being and mental health than did high lifetime adversity or no adversity. The results of their study suggest that exposure to some adversity “predicted relatively lower global distress, lower self-rated functional impairment, fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms, and higher life satisfaction over time”. Accordingly, “these results suggest that, in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger”.

This steeling effect “parallels the development of physical fitness from aerobic exercise”. That is, “just as the body requires exertion to improve fitness, there is no opportunity for toughness to develop if someone has never coped with stress; likewise, physical overexertion can be harmful, and too much stress disrupts toughening”.

References: Seery, M. D., Holman, E. A., & Silver, R. C. (2010). Whatever does not kill us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(6), 1025–1041. / Seery, M. D. (2011). A silver lining to experiencing adverse life events? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(6), 390–394.