Photo kindly provided by
Photo kindly provided by


Today I want to introduce you to the ‘calf to cow’ concept, a mindset based on the legend of an ancient Greek strongman called Milo Of Croton that I’ve found super helpful to achieve goals. 

One sentence summary:

“If you pick up your calves daily soon you’ll be carrying bulls.”

Let’s go.

The Legend of Milo of Croton and his Calf

Milo of Croton was a 5-time Olympic Wrestling Champion and undoubtedly one of the strongest men who ever lived.

The source of his strength however was quite… curious and he has become the subject of legend. 

Here’s a little retelling of the tale. 

Once upon a time, there was a farmer named Paddy who wanted to be the strongest man in Ireland, but unfortunately he had no time to train because of his responsibilities on the farm.

One day, one of his cows gave birth to a young healthy calf. That’s when Paddy had an idea. 

The next morning he woke up 15 minutes earlier, rushed out to the newborn calf, hauled it up over his shoulders and walked around the field with it. Paddy did this every day for 4 years. 

Strange rumours spread around the village about Paddy’s morning routine and one morning the local news station sent a TV crew to cover the story.

The whole country was shocked to see the footage of Paddy carrying a fully grown bull on his back! 

When questioned about where he got his superhuman strength from Paddy just laughed and said “if you pick up your calves daily soon you’ll be carrying bulls.”

The Concept

It’s a pretty simple concept – one that we are familiar with in one way or another – but I find this to be the most memorable illustration of it. 

There’s no way Paddy would have thought it was possible to lift a full grown bull, but the change was so gradual he hardly noticed. He simply made it part of his routine, committed to it and he grew in strength as the calf grew.

“Small incremental changes over long periods of time lead to breathtaking results.”

That’s the secret of this concept:

Take your life-long/yearly goals and break them down to see what you have to do every day to make them happen. 

Chances it won’t be as much as you think. 

Building a Marathon Mindset

“Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

I have always heard this before but it never really sunk in until I sprinted for too long and ended up falling on my face multiple times (I’m pretty stubborn.)

There are things I wanted to achieve but I tried to achieve them too quickly and as a result failed entirely. 

The calf-to-cow concept has radically changed how I live my life and I have to say I am more productive than I have ever been in my life by focusing on small consistent efforts over a long period of time rather than fast sprints in the short. 

The great thing is you can use this concept for just about anything. Here are a few ideas.

1. Losing Weight/Getting In Shape/Gaining Strength

Let’s say you can currently weigh 100kg and you want to lose 20kg to bring you down to 80kg.

You could pick out some rigorous intense training plan, work out 5 days a week and dieting like crazy in an attempt to lose 3 kg a week but you would make it 2 weeks before the fatigue, cravings and exhaustion wins and you give up.

The result?

You put the weight back on and all that effort was for nothing.

However, using the calf to cow concept you could break it up into very slight/gradual changes, let’s say 0.5 kg a week (still a huge amount) you will have achieved your goal in under a year.

“BUT THAT’S SO LONG” you may cry… well not really?

If you think what you were doing 10 months ago you’ll realise it really wasn’t that long and you could have already achieved you goal. 

This concept works not only because it’s easier for you (requires less effort) and you actually have a better chance of sticking with it, but the real beauty is that you are much less likely to ‘relapse’ into a old habits because you have changed your lifestyle. 

2. Learning a new language.

A lot of people say they would love to be fluent in another language. So what do they do?

Spend hundreds on some crash course that they do for a month and then send the resource to the graveyard where previous failed goals live (trust me, my graveyard is huge, no judgement.)

Perhaps a more feasible option would be to start with an app like Duolingo. It’s free and has over 12 languages you can learn.

With short, simple 5-10 minute lessons if you built this into your daily routine over a year you would be shocked at how quickly your fluency builds up.

I used to do Duolingo on the subway on my commute each morning and my German (as well as my German family members) have benefited a lot.

3. Reading more books

We are constantly bombarded with things like “readers are leaders” or ‘the more you read the more you know’ etc.

It’s a worthy and enjoyable thing to pursue but the biggest excuse you will hear is “I just don’t have the time.”

A book a week is more than achievable, especially if the books are short and you use audible too, but even bi-weekly or monthly efforts add up over time:

10 years of a book a week = 520 books.
10 years of a book bi-weekly = 260 books
10 years of a book a month = 120 books

That’s a whole lot of extra knowledge, insights and epic tales that you otherwise wouldn’t have/experience. 

4. Saving Money

Whether it’s saving or getting out of debt, the calf to cow concept can make a massive impact in your steps towards financial freedom.

If you could figure out how to cutback £10 a day from your costs you would save £72,000 in 20 years.

That’s a massive chunk of change and has the potential to make a massive impact.

“£10 a day… you’re absolutely nuts”

Yes it’s a lot of money but it could boil down to:

  1. Bringing a pack lunch instead of buying lunch out.
  2. Swapping Starbucks for a flask. 
  3. Adjusting the heating in your house
  4. Cycling to work instead of driving (cut out fuel and parking costs)
  5. Having friends over instead of going out

I think if we’re honest we could all save a lot of money by making a few of those adjustments.

(A good example of this method is how I bought an engagement ring with spare change by using the £2 coin trick)

Time to pick your calves

So what are you trying to achieve this year?
Or the next 3 years?
Or even the next 30?

You can’t do it all, so choose wisely.  After all:

“Our entire lives are a result of small, seemingly insignificant daily choices.”

What small changes could you make today that could help you reach your goals in this marathon we call life? 

More from Matthew Thompson

I try to write honestly and transparently about my successes and failures as well as what works and doesn’t work for me in my efforts to achieve them.

(This also results in me constantly experimenting and trying out different methods.)

If you’d like to be a part of this I’d love to send you my monthly newsletter with my latest articles as well as my favourite podcast episodes, books and quotes I come across each month.

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Thanks so much for reading. 

All the best

– Matthew

Further Reading:
– Whatever You Do In 2018: Be True
 I bought an engagement ring with spare change (£2 coin trick)
Delta Airlines Paid For Our Groupon Wedding