As part of this time, the disciple was required to take daily inventory of their sins, pausing three times a day to reflect on the previous hours. They were to make a note on paper every time they committed a particular sin. Each day they would reflect back and strive to make improvement on conquering these specific sins.
To my Reformation-influenced mind, this seems a bit legalistic and formulaic, but I don’t think it really is. The prayers Ignatius suggests do call for God’s grace in this. For instance, one of the exercises ends with a focus on “mercy, pondering and giving thanks to God our Lord that He has given me life up to now, [and] proposing amendment, with His grace, for the future.”
I don’t think this was a “works righteousness” effort. I think there’s something to how seriously Ignatius and the men he discipled took their sin, and how they methodically determined to eradicate as much as possible from their lives, primarily by beginning to actually understand the gravity of their sin and turning their attention from it to Jesus. Once this change of heart and mind was accomplished, deeper contemplation on the life of Jesus could happen.
I see this sort of exercise as a reminder to live fully aware of God’s great grace and mercy, and–with God’s help–continue on in the struggle against sin.