Former MI6 spy explains how to remember everything

SonyRemembering things can be tough at times.

Warren Reed, a former spy for the British secret service MI6 and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, learned a simple technique during his training to store any information in the brain without having to write it down.

One of the first things spies learn is to train their brains to remember more than they normally would – not only to be successful at their job, but also to survive in critical situations.

“If a spy’s cover is exposed, the situation can take a nasty turn in a matter of seconds. Spies are only human, they too can get nervous at times, ”he says.

“If they betray themselves, they will not survive. You will be killed in a rigged car or in a traffic accident. Or they are simply captured, tortured and killed on the street. “

“The worst thing you can do is say, ‘Oh sorry, what was the trajectory of this gun, how many kilos are you carrying, please excuse me, I’ll get a pen and paper to write it all down.” “

A technique called parental home

Reed calls the technology “home”. You have to visualize two things for this. The first is the “known”, the second is the “unknown” (the information that you need to remember).

The “known” is the “parental home”.

Imagine your parents’ home. If you’ve lived in an apartment for a long time, that’s okay. But a house that you know really well, that you have lived in for many years and that you grew up in is even better – because it is bigger, has more areas, corners and edges.

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PlusONE / Shutterstock

Now imagine a tour of the house. Starts at the front door, goes through the hallway, kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. Goes all over the house to finally go outside through the front door. Make a note of details along the way, such as shelves or tables.

Keep this tour in mind.

The second thing you have to imagine is the “unknown”. That is the information that you need to remember.

Look around. What do you have to remember? Is it something someone says, does someone tell you a story? Is it an image that you have to memorize the exact color and shape of, or is it the furnishing of a room where you have to memorize the position of every object? Is it a long number? Is it a series of events?

Tries to break the information down into different elements.

Embed the unfamiliar in the familiar

Now you take any important element of the situation, conversation, story, decor, or picture that you need to remember and place it in a place in the house that you walk past on the tour. For example, place it on a shelf or on the table. Distribute each element on your tour.

You can caricature any element to make it look sillier.

The more graphic and ridiculous it looks, the better it will be remembered. If it is a long number or a long sequence of things, you can give it an extraordinary or human element, such as teeth or a particularly distinctive color.

As soon as you have placed each element on your tour, go back and start again at the front door. Now go through the tour in your mind again and look at every element that you have distributed around the house.

By placing the elements you need to remember in an environment that you know well, you automatically embed them in your memory.

Also read: With these 4 simple techniques you can remember a lot more

Reed says he often had to memorize up to 100 items during his espionage training. But don’t worry – in an everyday situation you usually don’t have to save more than 20 elements to remember a certain situation.

Translated by Nathalie Gaulhiac

This article was published by in 2019. It has now been reviewed and updated.


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