Can I contradict the title of this post in the first sentence? #BadBloggingHabit
I don’t like the word “accountability partner” any more than I like the word “diet,” and I dislike them both for the same reason. They sound like an exception and a punishment rather than a lifestyle and a gift.
No one is going to live on a diet or in an accountability relationship. They’ll do it for a little while and then they’ll stop. We know this. So let’s quit saying it. Admission: I will still use the phrase accountability partner in this blog. I want to change your mindset more than your vocabulary.
What is the alternative vocabulary to “accountability”? It’s friendship. Every instance of accountability that I’ve ever seen endure, did so because the two (or more) people were friends; not because they enjoyed going on a sin-hunt (a concept we’ll debunk in a moment, but let’s take it one at a time).
So what if you don’t have a friend who will serve this role?
Step 1: Make yourself accountable , which is a radically different mindset from “having accountability.” If you’re married and struggling with sexual sin, this is a vital step in protecting your spouse.
Step 2: See who appreciates the authenticity of your actions. People are hungry for authenticity. Live the kind of relationship you want and see who is drawn to you.
Step 3: Invest in that relationship you develop in point #2 in the ways described below.
The questions provided below serve two primary purposes that are not always considered part of developing an accountability relationship: developing trust and addressing pre-crisis temptation. Both of these are generally known to be important for effective accountability, but the questions most commonly asked in an accountability relationships are not targeted at these objectives.
Deepen trust to draw out greater honesty – We trust those who show the ability to care for us well. Many of the questions asked between accountability partners (by now you should hear “friends”) should be for the purpose of demonstrating care for the individual so that trust is developed and greater honesty ensues.
Identify pre-crisis contributors to temptation – Crisis level temptation is not born in a vacuum. Usually there are predictable things that lead to the pivotal moments of decision. Many of these have nothing to do with what we classically think of as “temptation.” If this concept intrigues you, but you’re not sure what this would entail, keep reading.
Without further ado, let’s begin to look at questions you wish your accountability partner would ask and why. These five questions are merely meant to be representative and to spark creativity (stale, repetitive questions result in withering accountability). Use them as a launching pad for the kinds of conversations you should be having as you establish lasting and enjoyable accountability in your life.
1. What are you doing to enjoy life?
We sin because sin is fun. We enjoy sin (at least for a little while). The more we deprive ourselves of legitimate pleasures, the more we will be susceptible to the temptation of illegitimate pleasures.
A friend who spurs you to avoid illegitimate pleasures (e.g., sin) should, just as passionately, call you to pursue legitimate pleasures—in balance with your life responsibilities. “Shooting the breeze” about your favorite hobby is not just wasting time while your waiter brings your breakfast; it is part of the accountability relationship.
2. What new stressors are entering your life?
Sin is frequently an escape more than it is a pursuit. If that is true, then being aware of the things we are prone to want to escape from is important. Often, just not being alone with our stresses is a huge relief.
When we don’t feel like anyone knows or understands what we’re going through, all of the lies that make sin appealing become more convincing. Sometimes our friend may be able to suggest things to reduce the stress, but even if they can’t these are not wasted conversations.
3. Would you like to “just hang out”?
If accountability partners only spend time together “doing accountability” then their relationship will likely begin to feel like a sin-hunt. Accountability will be deemed to only be “working” when sin is found. The purpose of the relationship will be called into question during extended periods of time when our sin-of-choice is absent. The result is a neglect of the relationship and creation of a context more ripe for temptation during “the good times.”
Having times when you “hang out” (or whatever the cool word is now) is vital to accountability providing the long-term protection desired when people enter into these kinds of relationships.
(Again, you should be saying, “This sounds more like intentional friendship than an accountability protocol.”)
4. Who or what is getting too much air time in your thought life right now?
This is similar to the stress question, but does not have to carry the negative connotation. Our mental air time can be consumed by a fictional argument with someone we believe has unreasonable expectations of us. But it can also be fixated on a particular craving or a personal ambition that is becoming too central to our identity.
Asking this question is a great way to become self-aware of our thoughts, which is very important for addictive behaviors. Too often it is passivity towards our thought life that allows temptation to gain significant momentum before we begin to resist it as temptation. Knowing you’ll be asked reminds you to pay attention.
5. What are you passionate about in the coming weeks, months, or year? How it is going?
Your friend should already know, but if they don’t, then they have to know what “it” is before they can ask now “it’s” going. Part of what sin does is rob us of the time and energy that God desires us to invest in the things he made us to be passionate about. In that sense, sin is a parasite; it lives off of resources intended for another purpose.
For many people it is helpful to realize that purity is an investment as much as an outcome. Purity is investing our lives in the things that really matter more than it’s the avoidance of particular activities; otherwise couch potatoes would be saints. For achievement-oriented people this realization can add to their motivation to pursue purity.
Don’t take the suggestions above to discount traditional accountability conversations. You should still ask traditional accountability questions:
Have you succumbed to temptation since we met last?
When have you been tempted and what have you done about it?
How has your time of Bible study and prayer been?
Has God felt more like a cop-detective or a Savior-Father to you recently?
What have you not told me that you should?
What should I have asked that I haven’t?
But don’t let these be the only questions you ask. Make sure that as you “do accountability” that you are “establishing a friendship.” If you don’t, chances are you won’t be “doing accountability” for long.
. . . .
 In your “best available relationships” (whatever those may be) share when you’re tempted, tired, discouraged, unmotivated. Do this by e-mail, text message, phone call, or in person. Don’t rely on them for the changes you need to make, but allow their awareness to strengthen your resolve to make those changes.
 I caveat this point, because there are too many adults, especially married adults, who are bitter about the responsibilities of adulthood and a family. Daydreaming about the fun of adolescents or singleness robs us of the ability to enjoy the fun of adulthood and marriage. God is pro-maturity and we should be too.
It wasn’t very long ago that doctors and researchers believed that in order for something to be addictive, it had to involve an outside substance that you physically put into your body, like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs.
Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure.
—Norman Doidge, MD, The Brain That Changes Itself 
It wasn’t very long ago that doctors and researchers believed that in order for something to be addictive, it had to involve an outside substance that you physically put into your body, like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs. 
Once we got a peek into the brain, however, our understanding of how addictions work changed.  It turns out, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs have more in common than you might think. Sure, on the outside, some are poured into a glass while others are lit on fire and smoked. But once they’re in the body, they all do the same thing to the brain: flood it with a chemical called dopamine.  That’s what makes them addictive. And porn does the exact same thing. 
You see, your brain comes equipped with something called a “reward pathway.”  Its job is to motivate you to do things that keep you and your genes alive—things like eating or having sex to produce babies.  The way it rewards you is by releasing dopamine into your brain, because dopamine makes you feel good. 
However, just because your brain has adapted to motivate you to do something doesn’t mean it’s always good for you. For example, your brain produces higher levels of dopamine when you have chocolate cake than it does for whole-wheat bread.  Why? Because 3,000 years ago, high-calorie foods were really hard to come by, so when our ancestors found them, it was important that they eat a whole bunch while the getting was good.  These days, a bag of Oreos is only as far as the nearest supermarket. If we gorged on them every chance we got, chances are we’d get heart disease, gain weight, and develop a bunch of other health problems.
Porn is basically sexual junk food. When a person is looking at porn, their brain thinks they’re seeing a potential mating opportunity, and pumps the brain full of dopamine.  And unlike healthy sexual relationships that build up over time with an actual person, porn offers an endless stream of hyper-sexual images that flood the brain with high levels of dopamine every time the user clicks to a new image. 
Setting your brain up for an overload of feel-good chemicals might sound like a good idea at first, but just like with junk food, what feels like a good thing, in this case isn’t at all. Because porn use floods the brain with high chemical levels, the brain starts to fight back. Over time, the brain will actually cut down on its dopamine receptors—the tiny landing docs that take the dopamine in once it’s been released in your brain.  As a result, porn that once excited a person often stops having the same effect, and the user has to look at more porn, look at porn more often, or find a more hardcore version—or all three—to get aroused. 
Eventually, as the brain acclimates to the overload of dopamine, users often find that they can’t feel normal without that dopamine high.  Little things that used to make them happy, like seeing a friend or playing their favorite sport, can’t compete with the dopamine flood that comes with porn, so they’re left feeling anxious or down until they can get back to it. 
On top of that, dopamine doesn’t travel alone. When the brain is getting a hit of dopamine, it’s also getting new pathways built into it with a protein called “iFosB” (pronounced delta fos b). 
Essentially, iFosB’s job is to help you remember to do things that feel good or are important.  While dopamine is motivating your brain to do things and rewarding it for doing them, iFosB is quietly leaving trail markers in your brain, creating a pathway to help you get back there.  When this happens with healthy behaviors, it’s a very good thing. However, as little as one dose of many drugs will also cause iFosB to start building up in the brain’s neurons, and of course porn’s powerful dopamine surge causes iFosB to build up as well. 
The more a user looks at porn, the more iFosB accumulates,  essentially beating down the brain pathways leading to using, making it easier and easier for the user to turn back to that behavior, whether they want to or not.  Eventually, if enough iFosB accumulates, it can “flip a genetic switch,” causing irreversible changes in the brain that leave the user more susceptible to addiction. 
And for teens, the risks are especially high, since a teen brain’s reward pathway has a response two to four times more powerful than an adult brain—which means teen brains release even higher levels of dopamine.  Teen brains also produce higher levels of iFosB, leaving them extra vulnerable to addiction. 
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