This section of LifeEditor is inspired by Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), a Spanish nobleman-turned-priest, who founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, part of the Roman Catholic Church.

Saint Ignatius’ famous work Spiritual Exercises is a guidebook for a spiritual teacher to take a devotee through a 30 day retreat. We are not going to follow that process here, but, to give you a flavour, Saint Ignatius wrote that his Exercises “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of inordinate attachment”. So the principles of Ignatian spirituality can certainly help you make good choices in life.

The words ‘inordinate attachment’ basically mean ‘excessive clingyness’. In what I think is a very modern way for a mediaeval Spanish nobleman, Saint Ignatius emphasised freedom to choose as being vital to making good choices. Freedom from unconscious preferences which may be driven by injured psychology. Freedom from the expectations of society or other people. Freedom from selfishness and all other forms of negative impulse. Freedom to fulfil your authentic purpose in life.

He urged his followers to carefully examine their motives and desires. He stressed the need to check if something feels right, and – crucially – why that might be. It might well feel right because it is right; but the wrong thing might feel right if the feeling is driven by some hidden negative impulse, what Ignatius (this time in rather old-fashioned language) called ‘evil spirits’.

He encouraged his students to read the Bible, imagining they were really there in the story. This was to try to make the experience as vivid as possible so that it affected the reader in a close personal way. This helped them to gain the detachment from themselves necessary to choose freely.

For Saint Ignatius, trying to work out what God would want him to do was a big issue involving a lot of contemplation and prayer. But Ignatian principles of decision making also include practical things like gathering information, investigating potential consequences, continually reviewing how you feel and why that might be, and making adjustments – both to the plan and to one’s own motivations.

So, while Saint Ignatius’ teachings were originally intended as a guide to the spiritual development of believers, helping them to deepen their relationship with God, they nonetheless provide a very sound – and curiously modern – approach for anyone wishing to make good choices in life.