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Negative Future Perception and the Vicious Cycle of Depression

youcanshapeyourfutureThough the future is impossible to predict, it is easy to imagine.

This is the heart of depression in a theory devised by Ann Marie Roepke and Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania.

After an extended review of literature on prospection (your mental perspective of the future), and depression, they found that the perception of negative futures can trigger depression.

Negative beliefs, poor evaluations of the future, as well as limited thinking about the future all contribute to the problem.

To make matters worse, the two researchers cite that present depression can fuel the imaginings of a poor future, turning it into an inescapable and vicious cycle.

In this vicious cycle, which comes first: the perception of a negative future that causes depression, or the depression that causes the perception of a negative future?

In a sense, it may not matter. The question is:

How are you going to begin a new, positive cycle?

Roepke and Seligman argue that prospection is the true front line in battling depression. Determining how long patients spend fantasizing about the future versus how long they ‘should’ is one of many ways to establish the rules for healthy prospection.

If people truly felt the ability to perceive and move toward a desired future, the hope might replace depression.

You can begin to shape a more positive future perception.

On your own, or with the help of a friend, coach or therapist, ask yourself the question. If my future were positive, hopeful and bright, what would need to be included in it?

Create a vision, set goals, milestones and a plan of action. Get support and move forward.

You can also ask yourself what you need to do to make the present more acceptable. Mindfulness practices go along way toward such acceptance.

Physically, healthy dietary changes, vitamins, herbs and exercise contribute to a healthier physiology and thus a healthier outlook.

Of course, if any of this were easy, then depression wouldn’t be a problem for many. However, depression is an epidemic. This makes the healing effort that much more important.

One of the leading obstacles to healing is the subconscious act of self-sabotage. When self-sabotage is in play, we don’t want to take healthy steps, even when we agree that they would be helpful. In other words, we become attached to our negative states of mind and almost insist on holding onto them.

This is understandable, as most of us are terrified of letting go of the familiar in favor of something foreign. When happiness is a foreign concept, we’re more likely to cling to our more familiar, if negative state.

This issue of self-sabotage in favor of familiar misery is best confronted as a separate issue. As long as self-sabotage in a factor, we’ll avoid doing the very things that will bring healing.

Depression was once called the perception of a future in which you do not want to participate. If this were true, why not quickly create a different, more acceptable future perception? It’s possible. In fact, it’s a relatively simple and easy process.

Yet, so often we don’t create that new future. We hang onto the one we don’t want, even insisting that no other future is possible. This could be considered a deep and very unfortunate act of self-sabotage.

If you think self-sabotage is relevant in your case, work on it first. Then, it won’t be an obstacle in the way of perceiving a brighter future.

To learn how self-sabotage works and how to overcome it, watch this free and enlightening video.


Negative Future Perception and the Vicious Cycle of Depression

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2015). Negative Future Perception and the Vicious Cycle of Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Jul 2015
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