Four Strategies for Discernment

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, there are various “rules for the discernment of spirits”—what we would simply call principles of wise discernment. Included in these rules are four helpful strategies to use when trying to make a good decision.

  1. Line Up the Pros and Cons.Make a list of all the advantages of going a certain route. Then make a list of all the advantages of not going that route. If you have more than one route to consider, make pairs of lists for each possibility. Sometimes when we actually write down the pros and cons, we see things that were not apparent before.
  2. Try It On for Size.Imagine that you have already made the decision. For instance, you have decided to get your teaching certificate. Now go through several days—a week perhaps—of pretending that you in fact are in the midst of getting the certificate and are looking for a teaching position. Notice how you react emotionally to this imaginary life. How does it feel to have made this decision? This method requires imagination but can be quite revealing.
  3. How Would You Counsel Someone in Your Situation?Pretend that your dilemma belongs to someone else, and that person comes to you for counsel. How would you approach looking at the situation? What advice would you offer? What questions would you ask? Then try to apply your counselor’s wisdom to yourself.
  4. At the End of Your Life, How Will You See This?Pretend you are nearing the end of your life—St. Ignatius actually suggested that people imagine being on their own deathbeds. Consider the whole of your life—what you did and why, what you are grateful for, what you regret. In light of this long view, how do you see the current discernment you are trying to make?

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