Route-based imagery. Popular, sometimes footless, self-help programs emphasize the importance of visualizing the outcomes you desire (e.g., Byrne, 2006). But it is not enough to visualize a better future; it is essential to visualize the route that leads there (Oettingen, Honig, & Gollwitzer, 2000; Taylor, Pham, Rivkin, & Armor, 1998). Route-based imagery involves identifying behaviors, thoughts, or feelings that are a route to the desired outcome. In a series of experiments, students who visualized routes got higher test scores, finished projects more quickly, and used more active coping strategies (Taylor et al., 1998).
This finding is relevant to treatment: Depressed people who visualize themselves taking small, concrete steps toward well-being might recover faster than those who just visualize good outcomes
(or do not visualize at all). Visualizing good events can lift mood, but failing to visualize the route to get there could be risky. If a person vividly sees a wonderful future but remains convinced it is blocked, this could maintain depression; indeed depressed and hopeless people, and those with recent suicidal behavior, do not necessarily abandon their goals but rather they have painful engagement, seeing their goals as both essential for happiness and too hard to achieve (Danchin, MacLeod, & Tata, 2010).
Manipulations of time perspective. When using Beck's (1970) time projection technique, therapists help clients to relax deeply and then to project themselves into the future vividly imagining good experiences. This is similar to Erickson's (1954) pseudoorientation in time procedure, in which clients first project themselves into a time when their troubles are resolved. They then converse with the therapist as if they were truly in the future, and they describe the process by which they improved their lives and solved their problems. It is not known if time perspective methods work, and they likely need to be refined to better target prospective mechanisms.
Anticipatory savoring. Therapists can teach depressed people anticipatory savoring (Loewenstein, 1987), as well as mindful awareness and appreciation of the process of striving for meaningful goals (McCullough, 2002). One positive psychotherapy (PPT) exercise called the three good things technique can be modified to be future-focused instead of past-focused (Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006). In the original exercise, people keep nightly logs of three positive things that happened, and what they did to make these things happen. In the prospective exercise, depressed clients would keep logs of three good things they expect to happen tomorrow, and what they could do to ensure that these things happen. Whereas the original exercise targets PES, the reformulated exercise targets pessimistic predictive style.
Strengths-based work. One way to make positive simulations feel personally relevant is to help clients discover their signature strengths as in PPT and solution-focused therapy (Seligman et al., 2006): When clients identify and develop what is good about themselves, they may feel that positive outcomes are both more attainable and more deserved. They can also simulate using their strengths to pursue meaningful goals (Padesky & Mooney, 2012).
Building purpose. Meaning and purpose are integral parts of psychological well-being, and they buffer against despair and suicide (Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Seligman, 2012). Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, purpose differs from meaning in being more future-directed: Purpose is about the intention to accomplish something important, a "central, self-organizing life aim that organizes and stimulates goals, manages behaviors, and provides a sense of meaning ... [and] directs life goals and daily decisions" (Damon, Menon, & Cotton Bronk, 2003; McKnight & Kashdan, 2009, p. 242). Meaning and purpose fit very well within prospection- based interventions.
How can CBT build purpose? First, it can help clients clarify their highest values and chart a course toward them as in acceptance and commitment therapy (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). Second, clients can be guided in taking on personal projects in order to attain a valued outcome (Little, 1983); such projects may help depressed clients to be drawn into a meaningful future and not be mired in a dark past. Third, CBT therapists can use the forward arrow technique. This is inspired by the classic CBT downward arrow technique (Burns, 1980; Friedman & Thase, 2006) in which the therapist drills down to the core fear underlying a client's distress (e.g., "I'll die alone and unloved, which will mean that my life was a failure"). The forward arrow technique uses similar methods toward a different end: The therapist elicits a positive scenario, and then asks the client what exactly makes this scenario so fulfilling. This questioning is repeated until the client arrives at the core purpose that draws him into the future (e.g., "Then I would know that I had really made my family happy and made the world better for future generations"). The therapist can then use this positive vision to help propel the client through obstacles. This positive vision could also combat depressed people's tendency to set fewer approach goals, more avoidance goals, and to pursue approach goals for avoidance-related reasons (e.g., to earn a promotion so that one's family will not be disappointed) (Sherratt & MacLeod, 2013; Vergara & Roberts, 2011).