The more you learn about other cultures, the more you become aware that there are different ways to understand time, that your culture’s way is just one of many possibilities. This realization changed my day-to-day life for the better.
I experienced ‘Tico time’ in Costa Rica.
I woke up before the breakfast bar opened to enjoy a sunrise yoga session. My traveling companions and I made our way towards the jungle studio. Monkeys howled and birds chattered, and the trees soon gave way to a gazebo that stood overlooking the tree tops and the ocean.
The first floor was fit for an elegant reception. It was a wide open space with no windows, allowing for an unobstructed view of the jungle and a natural wilderness sound track. A small staircase in the middle led to an upper deck, our yoga studio for the morning.
It was the perfect setting, except for one thing. There was no yoga instructor.
We sat down. People whispered, or sat quietly. Our skin warmed in the naturally heated studio, and the sounds of the wild soothed our minds. Time drifted past, and there was still no yoga instructor.
“Tico time,” one of the guys said, when the yoga instructor appeared at the top of the stairs, about 20 minutes after class was scheduled to begin. The instructor smiled wide, and greeted us cheerfully before unrolling her mat and beginning the practice.
Class began late, and class ended late.
When the class finished, we started to discuss how nice it was that there was no panic or chaos when the instructor was late. I’ve reflected on this and other experiences with time while traveling, and have come to a few realizations.
1. Perception of time is a result of cultural norms, not an understanding of a great, universal law.
It felt so much better to sit peacefully while waiting for the yoga class to begin than it did to swivel around and check the clock every 20 seconds, as I would have done in the same situation back home. That panicked feeling is not a rule, it’s learned in cultures that run on “linear time.” Cultures that have a slower tempo, and a more “multi-active” understanding of time are more accepting of shifting schedules.
Now, you may be thinking “that’s fine when I’m on vacation, but back home I have places to be and meetings to get too immediately after the class!” Good point, I do too, and so did a woman in the class that morning. When 8:00 a.m. arrived, she silently rolled up her mat and left, having enjoyed 40 minutes of yoga.
Yes, you’ve got places to be, but you’ve also got a choice in how you handle that. We can learn from the tempo other cultures.
2. Linear time generates anxiety because we associated it with other values.
I can’t speak for every culture that runs on linear time, but I can speak for Canada and the United States. We love words like ‘efficient’ and ‘punctual,” and so time becomes a source of anxiety.
Why? Our effective (or ineffective) use of time impacts multiple elements of our life that are important to us, and that we use to assess ourselves.
- Good grades.
- Social approval.
We’re constantly plotting out how to accomplish things on time, and so time becomes an immense source of stress. This is so engrained that many of us panic about things moving slowly even if we’re still going to accomplish a task early!
3. It’s better to accept that you cannot control the rate at which things happen.
Check the bus schedule in Canada. It’ll say something like “4 minutes,” or “12 minutes” until the next bus. Now, check the bus schedule in Puerto Rico, when is the next bus coming?
Trick question! There is no schedule.
Google will give you an arbitrary estimate like “10 – 50 minutes,” and you’ll wander out towards the bus stop and wait, with no expectation on when the bus will arrive. Puerto Ricans sit happily at the bus stop, knowing full well that the bus will show up whenever, and that they have no control over it. It’s accepted that the bus schedule is beyond their control, because no expectations are set.
Embrace the spirit of ‘Tico time.’
Embracing something and living it are two different things, in this case. Do not show up to work 3 hours late and tell your colleague that you read an awesome blog post about Tico time and expect them to understand. When you live in a linear world, you have to operate on linear time.
What you don’t have to do is live with the anxiety, dread and urgency that has become synonymous with the word “time” for so many people.
Tico time is a term that reflects the slow-tempo life of Costa Ricans, and ever since that morning in Costa Rica it’s become a mantra that I use to remind myself that I have a choice in how I respond when “time” puts the pressure on. There is value in punctuality, and there is value in taking a deep breathe and letting some things go.
Have you had a similar experience? Did this post resonate with you? Join the conversation below!