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I am looking for a metaphorical phrase which would mean the opposite of "set the bar". Like "set the upper limit", but not that straightforward.

When you set the bar, you are defining the lower level of standard for something. It is OK if you do better than the bar they set.

When you do the opposite, you are defining the upper level. It is OK to do at this level or worse, but not better.

Listen, man, we need our jobs. If this new guy keeps going at this pace, they will lower the rates and fire our asses. Take Tim and Rob with you, meet him behind the warehouse and explain to him that he should ________ (do the opposite of setting the bar) at five thousand pounds of cargo per day.

When I am saying "fifty cold calls a day", I am setting the bar, not _______ (doing the opposite of setting the bar). No one will be mad at you if you call more. You don't have to call it a day the moment you've made your fiftieth call".

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Defining such a level or limit is setting or placing a cap or to cap as a verb.

From Lexico:

‘council budgets will be capped’
SYNONYMS set a limit on, put a ceiling on, limit, restrict, keep within bounds
curb, control, peg
‘The legislation, however, does not place a flat cap on the value of the homestead exemption that an individual can exempt in bankruptcy.’

"Explain to him that he should cap it at five thousand pounds" would mean not to exceed that amount and to pace himself accordingly. His coworkers might tell him not to break the curve, but that doesn't work as well for your second example. Both are related to quota and distribution.

"When I am saying "fifty cold calls a day," I am setting the bar, not capping it at that/not placing a cap on it at fifty" would mean that while fifty calls are expected, that number isn't the ceiling. It's not the cap, so feel free to keep going.

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  • For me setting a cap is setting an upper limit, but lower than the limit does not always mean worse. If 5 rejects a day is the standard then 7 rejects a day is worse than that, not better.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 6:07
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    I agree on all counts. Is there something I'm missing in my explanation about upper limits? Something like, "Five broken wickets is average, so we cap it at 8.5 before a negative performance review. Break more than 8.5 and you'll need retraining, or it's back to window washing."
    – livresque
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 6:49
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    I suspect there is no phrase that fully answers OP's question, and your answer is as good as we can get. I think it is because the metaphor of setting the bar compares it to a high jump, not a limbo. To set the bar high is unambiguously to do well, but there is trouble if you try to quantify it. Caps, floors, ceilings are all good metaphors but we need to understand when they break down.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 9:50

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