Pursuing Uncomfortable Blog and Updates Episode 35: Pursuing Mental Toughness with Clifford Starks

Episode 35: Pursuing Mental Toughness with Clifford Starks


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🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶

🎶 Episode Intro: Hello, and welcome back to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. Today, I am so excited. I have a real life celebrity I'm interviewing on the podcast today. His name is Clifford Starks and he is a former MMA fighter, and he fought some big matches. But today he fights different battles. He is an entrepreneur and he talks about what it takes to be tough physically and mentally. I cannot wait for you to meet him. 🎶

But first, just a reminder, head over to the blog at melissaebken.com/blog and leave a comment or a question. Keep the conversation going. And if you want to see the video head over to youtube and search for Melissa Ebken. 🎶

Melissa Ebken  0:23  
Hello, Clifford, welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. It's great to have you here today. How are you?

Clifford Starks  0:31  
Hey, Melissa, I appreciate you having me. I'm excited. I'm doing very well. Thank you.

Melissa Ebken  0:37  
Excellent. And tell us where you're located. I mean, you don't have to give exact longitude and latitude. You can if you like, but you know, generally, where are you?

Clifford Starks  0:46  
That's okay. I'm in. I'm in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Melissa Ebken  0:52  
Nice. It's probably a little warmer there than it is here at the moment.

Clifford Starks  0:57  
It's a bit warm. Yes. Yes, indeed.

Melissa Ebken  1:01  
So Clifford, you are an entrepreneur? Yes. Yes. And what do you do?

Clifford Starks  1:10  
Yeah, so right now, I focus on helping entrepreneurs get their time back. The reason being, I want to influence 1 billion people, and the way, you know, you learn lessons along the way, as you start taking actions on things. And one thing that I learned is entrepreneurs, they're innovative, creative, caring people, and they look for solutions for others. And I also realized, like, Oh, if they have more time, it gives them more time to come up with solutions to help people move forward on their journey. So I really just focus on helping entrepreneurs get their time back, because I know how valuable it is. It's the one resource that we can't make more of.

Melissa Ebken  1:54  
Isn't that the truth? Hmm. So a lot of us aren't entrepreneurs. But I would think that a lot of what you have to share would be transferable to most of the things that we do in life.

Clifford Starks  2:09  
Yeah, yeah, I always say it's the things that entrepreneurs do are the same things that a corporation's do the same things that high athletes do, if they're doing it at the best of the best. It comes down to laws, you know, laws and principles. And when you figure out how to apply the laws and principles, they're transferable to whatever profession you're looking to go into.

Melissa Ebken  2:40  
You know, and a lot of that, you know, comes into play in the family too our families aren't a business, but sometimes it's some of those same skills that gets us through all of the things that we need to do all of the school things, all of the being ready, and having clothes and all of the planning for events, birthdays, special celebrations, the holidays that come up a lot of that is that they encompass the same skills that we use in the our work lines. 

Clifford Starks  3:11  
Yeah. 100% that's coming from a family man married and with two little ones. Your'e 100% true on that.

Melissa Ebken  3:22  
Yeah. And I am all about saving some time and working more efficiently. So I am eager to hear what you have to share. Yeah. But before we get into that, you mentioned being a professional athlete. And that was once how you earned your living. You were a professional athlete.

Clifford Starks  3:40  
Mm hmm. Absolutely. Yeah, I used to be an MMA fighter. And I had the opportunity to fight in the UFC, I had the opportunity to fight in Bellator. So I thought in some of the highest promotions and fought with some of the fiercest competition, and that will teach you a thing or two about a prioritizing. Because that's just the name of the game. Yeah. When we when we prioritize correctly, we will even surprise ourselves. That's the cool thing. And so, going through that process, I got to surprise me in some ways that I got to surprise my coaches in some ways, and the athletes that I trained with in other ways, there was a lot of fun, it was a great journey.

Melissa Ebken  4:26  
So I have to ask, what is it like to be a professional fighter? I mean, I have a picture in my mind of what you might do every day, and I don't think that's probably what the truth is. So, yeah, what's a typical day like in the life of an MMA fighter?

Clifford Starks  4:43  
Yeah, so, um, you're looking to perform at your highest level. So you're being really cautious what you put in your body. You're also being really cautious on on the exercise routine that you do, and the things that you think about because our mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. I've always done a good job at training my mind to be my best friend, a lot, a lot of practice, and also had some bumps in the road when I was younger. So those bumps in the road ended up helping me interflect with life and see like, alright, this is what I'm given, what am I going to do with what I'm given? And so that, that really helped me on my, my professional fighting journey, as well. Um, and you go through the process, you know, you're, you're learning. And the most important thing I tell people to do is just be in life be the best that you can be in the moment that you're being it. Because eventually you start pick, you pick the skill sets up, you pick the abilities up. And you get to choose how you're going to use them. You know, and I always wanted to use my skills and my abilities to be the best person that I could be, you know, I didn't want to be a high level fighter and say, now I can be a jerk, because I can beat everybody up. Like, I wanted to be someone who could be my best for my best, and help others pursue being the best for them their best, you know, and I didn't know it at the time. People look up to discipline, and they look up to integrity, while I knew integrity was important, but I didn't know. They look up to integrity, but they also look at it in a way like I can't obtain that. I'm not disciplined, that person's disciplined. And it's like, no, I'm just as human as anybody else. And there's ways to go about it, you know, maybe you're, maybe you're telling yourself the wrong story. Or maybe you just have the wrong habits. And you have to condition yourself into having new and different habits. And yeah, so when I went through that process, it was it was kind of business as usual, because I had been building those habits for so long. You know, I did it in a I was a college collegiate wrestler, a high school state champion. And I knew there was a process, and I was just ready to put in the process. And I even told my coach, I wanted to fight in the UFC in less than a year. And I wish I could have showed you the side-eyed look he gave me because he didn't think it could happen. And he's just like, There's no way that's gonna happen. And we ended up doing it under 10 months. So you know, you believe in yourself enough. And you remind others to believe in you enough. And you just keep putting in the reps. And you'll surprised them and surprise yourself a little bit along the way.

Melissa Ebken  7:36  
Now, was that would there be a different type of training like a day to day training? And then a different type of training as you are ramping up for a fight, per se?

Clifford Starks  7:49  
Yeah, it's interesting. Well, that's a good question. So ultimately, if you're not, you can't pick up a new skill set when you're in fight camp. Or it's at least dangerous to do. Because now you're in fight camp, you want to sharpen the skill sets that you already have. Right. So when you're not in fight camp, I'm just experimenting, trying new things. Focusing on what when I'm focusing on boxing, I'm focusing on boxing fully. When I'm focusing on jujitsu, I'm focusing on jujitsu fully. I'm focusing on whatever the thing that I'm doing, is. Like, I think it's really important to be present in what you're doing. You can learn faster doing that way, because you're doing it with intentionality. And I listen to my body, too. If I don't feel like boxing a certain day, I'm gonna listen. And I'm going to question it for a second. Because, like I said, our minds can be our best friends or our worst enemies. And our mind will creep in and try and get us to be a little bit lazy. And we got to we got to call ourselves on that crap. And just be like, do I really not feel it? Or is my mind just trying to have me be lazy, right? And I'll kind of test it a little bit just to see and be like, oh, no, I'm really not feeling it because you can over train yourself too, you know, there's such a thing as overtraining. Sure. So going through the process. Um, yeah, I didn't have like a set routine of Mondays on boxing. Tuesdays, I'm doing jujitsu, I kind of did. But I also flowed with my routine, depending on how my body felt in the moment that I felt it. Now when it's time to get when it's game time, and you sign that contract, and you got three months on that sprint type. So that's when you're sharpening up the skills you already have. And you might, you might learn one or two tricks while you're going through that camp, but you're focusing on sharpening being ready being conditioned and being prepared for what you're looking to get ready to do.

Melissa Ebken  9:59  
You know, I grew up, well, I grew up in the 80s. And of course, the iconic fighting movies in my growing up days was Rocky, and I'm sure you get tired of comparisons to this. And I do apologize for that. But that's my only reference really. So, um, I do have the question, one, did you ever chase a live chicken down a Philadelphia street, and then two my actual more serious question then is I can see the wisdom and what you're saying is that you don't try new things in the fight. Because you perform as you practice. Yeah, you know, I've always heard that phrase, practice makes perfect, but I think it's practice makes permanent, that however you practice is going to be how you perform. Yeah. And that's what I hear you talking about, as you prepared for a fight.

Clifford Starks  11:02  
Yeah. So I love the Rocky reference, I was all about Rocky. So you're, you're perfectly good in that. And no, I'd never have chased a chicken down the street. Although it would be quite fun. And, yeah, practice how you perform. I like calling it a perfect practice makes perfect. Because I know like people are looking, they say practice makes perfect. Not necessarily. Because if you're practicing incorrectly, you're practicing the wrong thing. And if you're practicing the wrong thing, you're going to do the wrong thing when it's time to perform. So I go perfect, practice makes perfect. And it's not to say, you're gonna get it perfect right out the gate. But all perfect is all perfect is is I'm doing it as perfect in the moment that I'm doing it. Like I even like challenging perfectionist like, Oh, I'm a perfectionist, so I can't do it. Like, that's a cop out. The reason being, is because you can only be as perfect in the moment that you're doing it. And the only way you can grow into a new level of perfection, is by taking the necessary action. So you're not a perfectionist. You're just finding a loophole to say, oh, that's why I can't do this.

Melissa Ebken  12:20  
That's great. Thank you for that. And, you know, as I hear you describe it, that's true in sports. It's true in music, performance, any kind of artistry. But also, I would imagine it's true in business as well, that if you get lazy in any aspect of business, whether it's making sales calls, or writing copy, or whatever it is that that's going to carry through when it's the critical moment; when you're in the room, so to speak.

Clifford Starks  12:49  
Yeah, 100% 100%. Like, I'll often tell people. Um, it's all about taking the action, but knowing why they're taking the action too. So I, I know people get stuck. I know, sometimes it gets hard. And we all have our own BS in our mind, that keeps us like, oh, I can't do that. But I can do this. Like, no, we can do whatever we want to do. And you just have to believe that you can do it. And you do have a story playing in your head. Yeah, you do have a story playing in your head. So if you're, if you're feeling stuck, like you can't do it. Don't will yourself to just do it. But ask yourself, well, how or who are or what, like, what can I do? There's a solution in there. You just have to look for the solution sometimes.

Melissa Ebken  13:49  
Yeah. And again, we come back to discipline and integrity. And those things show up in the moments when we're alone, usually and struggling. Those moments of we don't want to do this, or I don't think I can do that. Those are the moments when it really shows up, isn't it?

Clifford Starks  14:09  
Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Melissa Ebken  14:13  
And I love what you said about making my mind my best friend instead of my worst enemy. Wow, that was powerful.

Clifford Starks  14:22  
Yeah, yeah. Our mind's there to work for us. Not against us; not to keep us in this stuck, average. My life's okay. Like no I I don't want to play that game. And I don't want people around me to play that game.

Melissa Ebken  14:38  
Yeah. Right. Imagine the conversations we can have in our communities, if we live to that truth every day, right?

Clifford Starks  14:47  
Yeah, yeah. I and it's in every one of us. You know, that's the funny thing. Ultimately, we want those great things. And sometimes maybe life's hit us really, really hard. It just like I tried, but and it's like, yeah, we can let go of the but we don't need to hold on the but not if it's not if it's not serving us anymore.

Melissa Ebken  15:12  
Heard it here first folks, let go with butts.

Clifford Starks  15:15  

Melissa Ebken  15:19  
So Clifford, and help us to, how can we do more of what we love to do if what we're really what gets us fired up to do and how do we delegate all of the other stuff? I mean, it's not saying that we don't have to do the stuff we don't like, that's just part of life. I get that. But give us some insights on how can we can focus on our strengths and build from that?

Clifford Starks  15:44  
Yeah, so it always starts with asking the question, okay, where do I want to be? Like, what do I want? And then saying, Okay, I know what I want, and what don't I want, you know? Getting really, really clear on both. On what I want and what I don't. And go, Okay, well, who has what I do want? And who also has what I don't want? Let me see if I can connect with them somehow. So then I started talking about guides, and the truth is everyone's a guide in something. Right? Like, you can teach me something. And I can teach you something. Now the question is, do I want to learn that thing? You may be a bit better baker than I am. I'm not very good at baking stuff. Somehow, I made a chocolate cake that tasted like cornbread. I didn't even know that was possible. But I figured it out. It was like, wow, it looks like chocolate cake.

Melissa Ebken  16:48  
I'm never gonna turn down good cornbread. Yeah, yeah, I just want to put that out there. 

Clifford Starks  16:52  
It was really good. But it definitely wasn't like, it didn't taste like chocolate cake. It just tasted like good cornbread. I don't know how I pulled that one off. But it's like, okay, well, who can guide me in this process? And now, what's even cooler is I go a guide, a guide and a guide. I call it a third, a third and a third. So who's where I want to be? And how can I connect myself to those who are where I want to be? And now there's another piece of, okay, who's where I'm at. Because I want some I want other people who are like me, in my situation I want to try to work with. So who's where I'm at. And then go find those people and connect with them. And then I say, to even take it a step further. Who's where I, where I'm at, but they want to be where I'm at. Like who wants who wants my service? My guidance, my wisdom. Because when you get better at teaching others how to get things, you actually get better at taking on information too. Because you realize the process is not that easy. If I just told the person like alright, this is what you do as an entrepreneur to get your time back. And I just gave you the steps. And say, all right, good luck. Everybody would have their time back, and we'd never have a problem. Right. But there's a series of transformations that have to occur. It's the transformation that people are looking for. Yeah. When they can transform into a new experience and a new and see things in a different lens and become a different person just for seeing it differently. And then all of a sudden, they're like, yeah, and then I'll do this. And I'll do this. And I'll take this and I'll take this and then you let momentum carry. So it creates a win for everybody.

Melissa Ebken  18:57  
And Clifford, it sounds to me. Like you were describing your own journey a little bit.

Clifford Starks  19:04  
Oh, yeah. I tell you, we're all a part of the same journey. It's so hilarious. And there's there's a thing called the hero's journey, where you go through a process and you come out the other end completely different. And the thing is, I've just been good at going through those processes again and again and again. Like the fighters journey, and the entrepreneurial journey is much the same thing. But people will take like, Okay, you're punching, you're kicking, you're dodging versus, okay, you're marketing to a certain audience. You're, you're talking to the right person, you know, their pain points. You know what they want, you know what the solution is, you know, you have your price on point. You, you know, you can serve them at the highest level you have your irresistible offer. So they're both the same in different aspects, because if I just told a person like yeah, all right to be a good fighter, just go punch and kick someone, knock them right out. Don't let him punch and kick you though. Yeah. So as an entrepreneur, I'd be like, Yeah, you know, what you want to do is leverage your time, so you don't destroy your family. Just so you know, just go do that. We just talked about habits, right? We just talked about practice. And we become what we practice. So when we practice, whether we're practicing a good thing, or practicing a bad thing, we're practicing something. And sometimes we don't even know what we're practicing.

Melissa Ebken  20:44  
Exactly. So what kind of challenges did you have, in particular, on your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

Clifford Starks  20:53  
Yeah, um, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I'll tell you, the first time I, the first time I fought, could have sworn I knew exactly what it was, okay, two guys punching each other. I was way off. It was one guy hitting a lot of air which  was me. Me taking unnecessary punishment that I didn't want to take. Entrepreneurship felt much the same. I was like, I can do it. I'm like, oh, yeah, this should be a lot of fun. Let's give this a try. I'm like, its like fighting all over again, just phsycologically getting punched, instead of physically. And, but again, it comes down to that discipline, the will to keep moving forward. The smile on my face, that really never goes away. Now I did burnout, I did burnout, I had, I think you almost have to a little bit to learn the really get the lesson to sink in. And I realized I was like, God, I gotta get better at this. I gotta make this better than it was before. So when I went through that process, I was doing the third, a third and a third. And you just get better at doing it. You know, you get better and better at doing it. Because you realize, as you're going through it, who your guides need to be, you know, sometimes you think your guide is, oh, they they know the way they know how to get to where I want to get to. But if the personalities don't mesh, that's gonna make it hard. That's going to make it hard, it's going to cause friction. It's always like, Oh, well, now I need the personality to mesh. And then you go through that. And you're like, Oh, well, now I need the core values to mesh. Now I need the culture to mesh. Like, it's all of those pieces coming together. And I and I tell people, I always say, get as excited as you can. Because you're you're one step away from meeting that person who's going to change your life. That's what it comes down to.

Melissa Ebken  22:59  
Now you're describing the entrepreneurial journey, but everything you just said, can be applied to so many different things in life, whether we're talking about a marriage relationship, or we're talking about a group relationship, say, if we're part of a church community, or part of any other group that were a part of, it's all about listening to our core values. Matching the personalities, finding the chemistry and leveraging all of that, so that you can create something that you have all agreed to be a part of. And I love that that wisdom is so transferable, because well, one, for people that are simple like me, I don't have to remember a whole lot of different things. It's the same principles that are present in all the aspects of life. And, two, it takes so long to master that set of principles that, thank goodness, it's the same ones that are there in everything, and it just keeps coming back to mindset. You know, like you mentioned earlier, this space between our ears really gets us it'll shoot us forward or hold us back. Like you said, if it's our best friend or worst enemy. So what three tips can you give us? As we kind of wind down here a little bit of what three tips can we use to make our minds our best friends?

Clifford Starks  24:24  
Yep, it's a great question. So one, know what moves you forward. Know what inspires you and talk about it. You know, have gratitude with yourself. Be thankful for the things that you have. Know what holds you back, know what keeps you stuck, and then take the action to get unstuck. Because you're going to condition your mind every time it gets unstuck with something it's going to start seeing opportunities everywhere. Because it's like, oh, wow, we get unstuck every time we get stuck. This is awesome, the mind is going to look. And also be observant, you know, be willing to look at yourself, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and you're not judging it, you're not beating it up. But you're looking at it, and saying like, Okay, if I want something, there's a way to get it, there's an action that I can take to make it a reality, even if I'm an overly angry individual, or maybe I am drinking too much. Or maybe I'm over indulging in food. Or maybe I'm being abusive to family members, like psychologically or even physically, whatever it may be. Observe it; look at it; be willing to look at it, and say, oh, I want to change this. Or if it's, I'm not spending time with the people that I love and I cherish. You know, part of the reason I got into getting entrepreneurs their time back, is because I saw like, entrepreneurs weren't making time for their families. And it's, it's, it's a cop out to say, like, I got it, I gotta sustain this. I gotta work hard. Like, no we're we're getting taught to do that, because the Netflix President found a way to keep his family and it's Netflix. So it's just one of those things that says, No, it's in your head. It's in your head to believe that. No, I have to do it this way. No, everybody has the same 24 hours. It's just how you use those 24 hours. 

Melissa Ebken  26:33  
A lot of wisdom there, Clifford, thank you so much. 

Clifford Starks  26:39  
Yeah thank you for having me.

Melissa Ebken  26:40  
How can people find out more about you? How do we connect with you online?

Clifford Starks  26:46  
Yeah, yeah. So you can find me on LinkedIn, under Clifford Starks, or on Facebook, Facebook itself, Clifford Starks. And I also am pretty relevant on Messenger, as well. So if you want to connect with me, reach out to me. Yeah, I love to learn about whoever you are out there, and what your story is. Because if I can move you in the right direction, great. And if I can point you in the right direction. Great. I just want to see people win.

Melissa Ebken  27:15  
Awesome. All of those links will be in the show notes. And folks, as you're listening in or watching on YouTube, make sure you leave a comment, ask a question. Keep the conversation going. Let us know what, ask Clifford whatever questions that you would like to know about him. And let us know what you liked about this episode. Clifford, thank you so much for joining us today.

Clifford Starks  27:38  
Awesome. Thank you. I appreciate it.

🎶 Episode Outro: Thank you so much for tuning into today's episode. If this encouraged you, please consider subscribing to our show and leaving a rating and review so we can encourage even more people just like yourself. We drop a new episode every Wednesday so I hope you continue to drop in and be encouraged to lean into and overcome all the uncomfortable stuff life brings your way. 🎶


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Hi, my name is Melissa Ebken, and I'm so thankful that you found your way here. 

I support people who are ready to lean into and overcome difficult challenges, situations, and experiences in their lives. I have been a pastor for 20+ years and have helped, guided, and supported many as they have grown through life's ups and downs. 

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