To the first question:
I try to use my conscious as a guide, in terms of figuring out God's will. If you look at it all of God's 10 Commandments are straight from our conscience, or our conscience is straight from them. If I were to steal I would feel guilty. I use this as a barometer for where God is directing me (on a most basic level). Obviously nothing beats a great relationship with a good spiritual Father.
The Second question:
I totally agree. In fact, staying in the past is a GREAT temptation and one of the hardest to avoid or get out of. being stuck in the past can be worse than just about anything else (IMHO). We have to strive to "use the past as a tool" and make sure that our focus is on God and not our problems, sins, etc.
I believe it is key to find God in our lives, and that if we were to do this, we could use examples from our own lives just as often as examples from the Lives of the Saints. It can be an awesome motivating factor to know "how did I get my job?" or any number of things, and see God as the focus of it (because ultimately He always is).