“Persuasive Fatigue” and the “Paradox of Choice”: Why Having Too Many Opinions is Not a Good Thing!

The ability to form an opinion or judgment on a given situation is generally a good thing. It enables us to make decisions and move forward. However, sometimes we might be overusing this mental process. Can we have… “too many opinions”? Let’s explore the question.

During a recent appearance on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder and CEO of Asana, explained some of his strategies for staying productive without falling into burnout. Among these strategies is minimizing the number of times he takes a stance, makes a judgment, or forms an opinion in a day:

“If I don’t have a strong opinion, I’d rather not have one,” he states in the midst of his argument.

To explain his reasoning, the Asana co-founder refers to the “paradox of choice” principle studied and popularized by Barry Schwartz, which states that when faced with an abundance of choices, people tend to feel overwhelmed and end up being dissatisfied, no matter what choice they make.

“To avoid facing this dilemma, I think the best shortcut is to pick your battles. At my level, it often means just saying, ‘I don’t care, I have no preference.’ Certainly, in my personal life, I try to do this as often as possible. My wife is always showing me art pieces to decorate the house. If I don’t have a strong opinion, I’d rather not have one,” he continues.

Everyday life presents us with numerous choices that will not have significant consequences or quickly varying results, no matter the choice we make.

“When you don’t have a firm opinion on a subject, it’s better not to spend energy on it.”

A Study on Exhaustion

In a Scientific American article, a group of researchers announced in November 2022 that they had conducted a research project on “persuasive fatigue,” which is the exhaustion felt when constantly arguing with others. In this era of extreme polarization, this line of research is certainly worth exploring.

“When people argue, a kind of frustration called ‘persuasive fatigue’ can cloud their judgment and affect their relationships,” explain the authors.

By surveying 600 Americans, the authors found that 28% of people had cut ties with a close one due to this “persuasive fatigue.” According to the researchers, most people attribute the failure of a debate or discussion to “the other person.”

“It’s true that others are not always open to our ideas. Stopping the discussion can then be the right thing to do. Because in a heated debate, your fatigue can lead you to misinterpret the situation and believe that your opponent is too limited or blinded to see the truth. We humbly suggest that sometimes, it’s not them, it’s you.”

A Question as Old as Time

Of course, we will not settle this question today. To what extent should we debate, take a stance, or form a judgment on a given topic? The question is as old as time.

“What troubles men are not things, but the judgments they hold about things,” wrote Epictetus, a philosopher of the Stoic school.

The Daily Stoic website explains this as follows:

“The Stoics considered opinion as the source of most miseries. It is what takes objective situations and transforms them into [something] good, bad, a mistake, an injustice, essential, deserved, or scandalous. It is also what takes things that have nothing to do with us and makes them problems for us. Disliking what another person does, believing that something outside of our control should be done differently, and so on.”

Certainly, food for thought.