Setting realistic expectations and living within those realistic expectations…


Quick summary: When you desire a change or when you desire a certain set outcome, it is helpful to offer acceptance to your limitations so as to live with realistic expectations. To attain a sense of self which is congruent with our most basic intention is can be helpful to allow certain boundaries and guidelines into your life. By setting up realistic expectations we can limit the prevalence and influence of certain stimuli in our lives.

I have long been puzzled as to why those with spiritual pursuits often have rituals, boundaries and rules that feel a bit obdurate. I have found it hard to understand why a person on a path towards acceptance, which moves away from resistance, would choose to live with so many codes of conduct.

Then it came to me… the rules are put in place to offer acceptance to the inherent limitations of the human condition. The rules are then in place so as to live within a setting which will likely harvest the desired spiritual results. 

Why are people celibate? Why are people vegetarians? Why do people get married? Why do people have set exercise schedules? Why do people censor themselves from certain content? Why do people pray a set way at a set time? Why do people follow laws, ethics, commandments etc?

Having realistic expectations is one possible answer.

Realistic expectations are a way for us to have a degree of control over the settings we participate within; settings inevitably have a degree of control over our minds and bodies.

It is unrealistic for most people to believe that they can control all of their body and mind’s impulses… therefore people set up their environment to succeed by accepting their limitations.


note the rules people make in order to live within realistic expectations should differ from person to person. One person trying to loose weight might need all their meals prepared by a nutritionist while another might simply need to limit restaurant visits.

1.) It may be an unrealistic expectation for a person who is trying to stop drinking to participate in social events at bars. If the expectation is to limit drinking then the person might set a rule that they do not go to bars. For some, it is more realistic that a person will be able to stop drinking if they are not visiting bars; it may be unrealistic that they will have the willpower to avoid their impulse to drink in such an alcohol-centered setting. By setting a boundary or a rule a person is lessening the external pressures which encourage them away from their goal.

2.) If a person is trying to eat healthy it can be an unrealistic expectation that they will be able to avoid their impulse to eat junk food if that junk food is located in the setting where they spend most of their time (ex. office and/or house). If the expectation is to eat healthy a rule can be made to not store junk food at the home or in the office. For some, it is more realistic to limit the ingestion of junk food if the option is not available in the home and office setting. The impulse to eat the junk food might always be there, but it is a far more realistic expectation that you will be able to avoid that impulse more successfully if you limit your exposure to the stimulus.

Perhaps we need boundaries to break the boundaries of our spiritual evolution. Without boundaries we might fill our time exaggerating the ego (the minds created self – the person we believe ourselves to objectively be) and satisfying the survival needs of the body (long after those needs are adequately met).


Perhaps a common error that humans have made all over the planet is the over generalization of rules and boundaries.

Limitations and the ability to control impulses differs from person to person… therefore for each person to reach a desired goal they would require different boundaries and rules. When we attempt to make rules and boundaries the same for all people (universal law)… we end up putting unnecessary rules on certain people… these rules can limit a person’s potential. We also likely create a resistance to rules and boundaries in general; if we see most rules and boundaries to be unhelpful or hurtful we may come to the conclusion that following rules in inherently unhelpful.

  • Who do you want to be and what gets in the way of that goal?


  • What are the impulses of your body and/or mind that you feel are difficult to control?


  • What can you realistically expect from yourself given your knowledge of these impulses?


  • What boundaries or rules can you accept into your life so as to better navigate the traps of these impulses?


My personal examples:


I try to live a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly… my health goals necessitate strict rules and boundaries.

I have strong impulses to eat quick food and junk food (usually the same thing)… for me, it is an unrealistic expectation for to not eat chips if those chips are in my house. If I am feeling hungry and lazy I am far less likely to take the time to make a healthy meal and I am likely t fall prey to my impulse to grab some quick food… If the quick food is not available, then I don’t have an option. I don’t have to have my wife hide my car keys or something as I can control the impulse to get into a car and go buy the junk food… It is realistic for me to expect myself to not drive to get the junk food… it is unrealistic that I wont eat it if it’s in my cabinet.

Like most people I am good at making excuses for myself… it is an unrealistic expectation that I would exercise the amount that I desire to if I allowed excuses to be relevant… I work out at least 4-5 days a week… my rule is no excuses.

I am also a creature of habit… it is very unrealistic that I will exercise the amount that I desire if I cannot create a habit of doing so… I have a rule that I do not take breaks from my exercise routines.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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