Remembering things can be hard.

Former British Secret Service MI6 and Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent Warren Reed learned a simple technique during his spy training to help remember any information without writing it down.

One of the very first things spies learn is how to train their mind to remember more than they normally would, not only to succeed, but also to stay alive.

“If an agent gives themselves away, the situation can turn dire in a matter of moments. Agents are still people, and can be nervous nellies,” he says.

“If they betray themselves, they won’t survive. They’ll be killed in a fabricated car or public transport accident, or they could just be pulled straight off the street, tortured and killed.

“The worst thing you can do while on assignment is say, ‘Oh sorry, what was the trajectory of that missile, how many kilograms are you transporting, please excuse me, I’ll just get a pen and paper and get all that down.'”

Reed calls the technique “my family home”. It’s an image association technique.

There are two things you need to picture in your head. The first is the “known”, and the second is the “unknown” (the information that you need to remember).

The “known” is the “family home” part.

Imagine your childhood family home, he explains. If you have been living in a flat for sometime, that’s ok, but a house that you know really well, that you’ve lived in for years or have grown up in is even better, as it’s bigger and has more areas, nooks and crannies.

Now imagine a circuit you would walk through your home that you know well. Start at the front door, and go to through the hallway, to the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. Go all around your house, and then make your way back out the front door. Along the way, notice nooks and crannies, such as shelves, tables, etc.

Keep that circuit in your mind.

The second thing you need to picture in your head is the “unknown”.

This is the information you need to remember.

Observe the situation around you. What do you need to remember? Is it something someone is saying, are they telling a story? Is it an image, where you need to remember the exact colour and shape of something, or is a setting in a room that you need to remember the placement of each object? Is it a long number? Is it a sequence of events?

Try to break it up into elements of information.

Now, take each important element of the situation, conversation, story, setting or image that you need to remember, and place it in an area of your house on the circuit. For example, put it on a shelf, or on top of the cupboard. Keep placing each element in an area of the circuit along the way.

Feel free to make a caricature of each element to make it sillier.

The more graphic and ridiculous it is, the more it will stick in your memory. If it’s a long number, or a sequence of things, ascribe an unusual or human element to each element you place, for example give it teeth, make it quack, or give it a particular colour or texture.

Once you have placed each element on the circuit, go back to the start of the circuit.

Now, walk the circuit in your mind, and see every element that you have placed in each area.

By placing the element that you need to remember in an area on a circuit that you know well, you are fixing that unknown element to something known, and are embedding the element in your memory.

Reed says that during spy training, he would often have to remember up to 100 elements, but in an everyday situation, you wouldn’t need to remember more than about 20 elements of information to get a good grasp of the situation you need to recall.

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